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MAY / JUNE 1999
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Cover Story
Does One Size Really Fit All?

Special Features
Hard Work and Prayer Make David Beihl the Best He Can Be

A New Strategy on RLPA

Strings Attached to Vouchers Weave an Entangling Web

National Center Reports
Ed Flex Act Passes Congress

Pending Matters: Your Call Counts

Light Within Congress

Weyrich Letter Makes Waves

Across the States
State by State

Regular Features
Press Clippings

Active Cases

Prayer and Praise

A Contrario Sensu

President’s Page

S P E C I A L   F E A T U R E

A New Strategy on RLPA

The Religious Liberty Protection Act, or RLPA, is federal legislation which attempts to protect religion. While Home School Legal Defense Association ranks religious liberty as the foremost of all our constitutional freedoms, we oppose RLPA because it attempts to use Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce to protect religion. Our objection to RLPA is not merely that it “turns religion into commerce” (which is bad enough), but that it vastly expands federal power to regulate religion. We have spent enough time battling tyrannical local and state governments to know that we need limits on government’s power.
    The Constitution protects religion by limiting state and local power, but that is not what RLPA does. Instead of limiting state and local governments, RLPA overwhelms them with an even bigger federal government. We have consistently opposed this tactic because it is both wrong and dangerous. It is wrong because our Founding Fathers never intended the Commerce Clause to give Congress this kind of power. It is dangerous because creating federal Commerce Clause power to protect churches simultaneously creates federal power to regulate churches.
    As Court Report readers will remember, a battle over this issue arose last May and continued until the Commerce Clause language was pulled from the bill in August. In early 1999, RLPA was reintroduced with this dangerous provision again included. HSLDA has been monitoring the new bill, working with a profamily coalition to change it, and keeping our members informed on its status.
    We have just discovered, however, that in addition to being wrong and dangerous, this effort to use the Commerce Clause may also be a foolish waste of time. Here is the Action Alert Update Mike Farris just sent out to the members who have signed up for our free HSLDA@Capitol Hill E-lert service:

Action Alert Update—June 9, 1999
A New Strategy on RLPA

Dear HSLDA members & friends,
On May 17, 1999, the Supreme Court granted review of an important case, which clearly impacts the use of the Commerce Clause in the controversial Religious Liberty Protection Act (RLPA). As we reviewed this case and the decisions upon which it is based, we have become convinced that RLPA’s use of the Commerce Clause will be declared unconstitutional.
    (For those of you who like to read cases for yourselves, here are the names and citations: New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144 (1992); Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997); Condon v. Reno, 155 F.3d 453 (4th Cir. 1998), cert. granted, 1999 U.S. Lexis 3200 (May 17, 1999).)
    This has caused us to rethink our strategy in the effort against RLPA.
    We do not take a light view of the division which has developed among like-minded Christian organizations over RLPA. This year we have endeavored to use only that degree of lobbying activity which was absolutely necessary to defeat RLPA. For example, we have not yet sent a letter to our entire membership, but have relied on quicker formats and smaller groups. We do not want to escalate the tension between friends any more than necessary.
    Because of this line of cases, we do not believe that a full-scale grassroots effort against RLPA is necessary. And in light of the high value of preserving good relationships among friends, we are going to adopt new tactics that should eliminate much of the friction between HSLDA and groups like Focus on the Family.

Here is what we plan to do:

  • We will remain firm in our opposition to the dangerous Commerce Clause provisions of the RLPA.
  • We will inform Congress (through legal analysis) that the RLPA is likely to be ruled unconstitutional.
  • We will keep our grassroots supporters informed of the progress of the RLPA. Any person who decides to write or call Congress to express his/her views will be welcome to do so, but we will not plan on issuing mass alerts.

    Here is what we plan to refrain from doing:

  • Engaging in public debates with like-minded Christian organizations over RLPA. Since we believe that the courts will strike it down even if it is enacted, there is no sense in creating needless friction.
  • Calling for full-scale lobbying efforts.

    Again, we will continue to oppose the RLPA. What is changing is the style of opposition that we feel is necessary. An academic approach should be sufficient, hopefully in Congress but certainly in the courts.
        We have a long-range perspective about this. When the courts strike down RLPA (which we believe they will), we are going to need to start working on a true solution to the need for greater religious liberty protection. By taking a less aggressive approach vis-a-vis our friends now, we hope to create a stronger basis for working together for a principled solution down the road.
        We hope that you will join us in standing firm for the original intent of the Constitution, but that you will also understand our tactical decision to use a more academic approach at this time. Scripture warns us not to build without counting the cost. Given the likely unconstitutionality of RLPA, we do not believe that it is necessary to engage in another heated battle against our Christian brothers and sisters.
        Please let us know if you have any questions.

    For Christ and for Liberty,
    Michael Farris