Constitution light

    Why would the congregation of a small Catholic church choose to worship in a community center gymnasium rather than the picturesque little stone church it owns up the street? Was it built over a toxic waste dump? a major earthquake fault? No. Is it lack of room to accommodate its growing membership? Close, but not quite. With approximately a million dollars in donations to enlarge its sanctuary, collected since a 1990 fund drive, insufficient room isn't the issue. Why do they still meet under basketball hoops in the huge, vacuous metal structure that doubles as a senior citizen's hall?

    The plans of St. Peter's church to build their new sanctuary, maintaining only the existing facade facing the street, came to an abrupt halt when the small south Texas town of Boerne refused the Church's request to remodel and enlarge its sanctuary. The church's plans to accommodate its growing congregation were denied on the basis that the 1920 structure, along with 129 other buildings on Boerne's main street, is an historic landmark.

    In a lawsuit initiated by Archbishop P. F. Flores, the Catholic church contends that the town's decision violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The town of Boerne is challenging RFRA as unconstitutional and the Supreme Court, having heard arguments this month, will hand down its decision later in the year.

    An earlier article on The Winds (see "Religious Freedom Guaranteed! (on condition") discussed Congress' enactment of RFRA as a response to a 1990 Supreme Court decision. The 1990 decision was, in turn, the court's response to loosen a much tougher standard established by the court in 1963. That ruling bound local, state and federal governments to demonstrate a "compelling state interest" before any laws could be enacted or enforced that restricted religious liberty--and then only the "least restrictive means" could be employed. This was overturned in 1990 when the court denied that American Indians have the constitutional right to use the hallucinogenic herb peyote as part of the exercise of their religion. It was in the court's majority opinion that Justice Antonin Scalea made the comment quoted in the aforementioned Winds article that "the 'compelling interest' test was a 'luxury' that this nation could no longer afford because of its increasing religious diversity.

    This confusing flip-flop by the Supreme Court is outlined as follows:

    1963 - The Supreme Court rules that governments must plainly show a "compelling state interest" before restricting ANY religious freedoms. In such cases where it was necessary to restrict certain religious freedoms due to an obvious detriment to society, the "least restrictive" means must be employed.

    1990 - The court effectually emasculates the 1963 ruling by stating that a law that is neutral with respect to religion, even though it may result in restricting some religious practices, is not unconstitutional.

    1993 - The U.S. Congress enacts the Religious Freedom Restoration Act with the intent of restoring by legislation the original tougher standard of the 1963 Supreme Court decision.

    The judicial land mine contained within this somewhat confusing turn of events is well disguised but inherently deadly to religious freedom in this country.

    If the court finds for the Catholic church, it gives its approval to RFRA and thus establishes a precedent that Congress can enact laws removing constitutional determinism from the Supreme Court. On its face RFRA appears to be a wonderful defense of the First Amendment but, in reality, it is a poison pill. It runs contrary to Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution that invests the Supreme Court with determining the constitutionality of laws. If RFRA is upheld, it will create a virtual carte blanche for Congress to circumvent that constitutional provision by enacting legislation countermanding any Supreme Court decisions it finds odious or unpopular. If the court finds for the Texas township it gives its de facto approval to municipalities and all higher forms of state and federal government to ignore the religious and property rights of citizens, they will then have very effectively tampered with the intent of the First Amendment without actually touching it.

    Such statements by a Supreme Court Justice that "increasing religious diversity" is sufficient cause for re-interpreting the First Amendment in a more restrictive manner is an unsettling exposition on the erosion of the Bill of Rights. It is also a grievous commentary on how corroded have become the freedoms in this nation when citizens cannot do with their own property what they desire as long as it does not interfere with the rights of others. For a church to be ordered not to alter its own sanctuary because a town council decided to call it an historic landmark, is ridiculous when viewed from any realistic perspective. Yet, so established is the tyranny of even small governments that the issue of property rights wasn't even addressed in the litigation and the church desperately grasped at RFRA for redress.

    The genius of the New World Order in directing these legislative and judicial gymnastics is that rather than attempting a direct attack on the First Amendment, they are effecting its gradual fade into oblivion--a sort of slow-motion strangulation. It becomes clear that the reason for the establishment of RFRA wasn't to broaden religious freedoms beyond the Supreme Court's definition. It was to enact legislation for the purpose of creating an artificial target for the court. This target was erected to provide a means for effectively negating religious liberties. If RFRA had never been produced as a challenge to the Supreme Court's authority to interpret the Constitution, there would not have been the opportunity of calling such a law into question. In short, the result of enacting RFRA was to give the government a precedent and opportunity for restricting religious liberty rather than broadening it--a neat little trick to establish, forever, a "viable" challenge to any freedom of religion that gets in the way of the government's agenda of absolute control of the citizenry.

    If the United States Constitution is, as some have convincingly argued, God's idea of secular government, would not the Scripture most fittingly apply that says,

    "It is time for thee, LORD, to work: for they have made void thy law."? Psalm 119:126.


Written 4/97


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