Missouri Senate backs religious freedom bill

Thursday, April 17, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- State and local governments would have to meet the highest legal standard to enforce laws or regulations that impinge on religious freedom under legislation that won preliminary Senate approval Wednesday.

The bill, dubbed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, would require proof of a "compelling state interest" for such restrictions. The measure, which passed on a voice vote, requires another vote to send it to the House of Representatives.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said his bill is supported by a wide spectrum of groups representing various religious faiths.

From the 1963 until 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court applied the compelling interest test to government actions on religious freedom. However, the court eventually returned to the much lower "rational basis" standard that had been in place prior to the 1960s.

That change in interpretation prompted a number of states, including Illinois, to pass laws similar to Kinder's proposal.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, said the legislature could be entering tricky constitutional territory.

"I can't think of any other time we've told courts what legal test to use in determining how to interpret a statute," Jacob said.

In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the federal law on which Kinder's bill is modeled.

The bill is SB 12.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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