House Protects LibertyWhen Money Is at Stake
On July 15, 1999, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of the controversial Religious Liberty Protection Act (H.R.1691). The vote was disappointing but not unexpected, according to Home School Legal Defense Association president, Michael Farris.
The vast majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives, including the leadership, proved today that they believe in means justifying ends, he said.
RLPA, a bill with the admirable goal of increasing legal protection for religious believers to practice their faith, was opposed by a wide range of Christian, conservative, and federalist leaders and organizations because of its inappropriate use of the federal commerce power.
Conservatives who believe that they can protect religious freedom using the expansive reach of the Commerce Clausethe primary vehicle for every Big Government intrusion into the lives of citizens since the New Dealcannot expect liberals to resist that same power when their own social agenda is at stake, said Farris. If the religious beliefs of a home school, a Bible study group, or an individual believer constitute interstate commerce, then there is nothing that the federal government cannot control.
The House overwhelmingly passed RLPA by a vote of 306 to 118, with 10 members not voting. Only 20 Republicans voted against the bill.
Although the bills chief sponsor, Representative Charles Canady (R-FL) predicted only 40 negative votes, almost triple that number voted against the bill, including 13 conservatives who agreed with HSLDA that the Commerce Clause portion of the bill was too dangerous.
These 13 congressmen who stayed true to constitutional principles all deserve your thanks:
We want to particularly thank Congressman John Hostettler for his leadership in opposing RLPA. Like us, he is a strong believer in religious freedom and the constitutional limitations of the federal government.
- Bob Barr (R-GA)
- Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD)
- Phil Crane (R-IL)
- John Hostettler (R-IN)
- Don Manzullo (R-IL)
- Jack Metcalf (R-WA)
- Ron Paul (R-TX)
- Richard Pombo (R-CA)
- Mark Sanford (R-SC)
- Joe Scarbough (R-FL)
- Bob Schaffer (R-CO)
- John Sununu (R-NH)
- Tom Tancredo (R-CO)
HSLDA was only one of several dozen organizations and individuals to speak out against RLPA for various reasons.
Groups opposed to the bill included conservatives like: American Association of Christian Schools, Eagle Forum, the Religious Freedom Coalition, Coalitions for America ( Paul Weyrich), Traditional Values Coalition, Conservative Leadership PAC, 60 Plus (a senior rights organization), Christian Action Network, I Love Jesus Worldwide Ministries, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedom, Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, National Defense Council Foundation, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Friends of the Bill of Rights Foundation, Professor Herb Titus, and The Liberty Study Committee.
State and local rights organizations included: National Association of Attorneys General, National Association of Governors, National League of Cities, Conference of Mayors, International Municipal Lawyers Association, National Association of Counties, and National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Even the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Academy of Pediatrics were opposed.
Groups supporting the RLPA included Focus on the Family, Prison Fellowship, Family Research Council, Christian Coalition, many mainline denominations, People for the American Way, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and others.
The good news is that RLPAs Commerce Clause provisions run squarely in the face of Supreme Court precedents holding that Congress may not use commerce power to control sovereign functions of state government. Even if RLPA ends up being passed by the Senate and signed by the president, Farris noted, the commerce section will quickly be ruled unconstitutional by the courts. Once that happens, we are eager to work with RLPAs supporters to implement a real, lasting solution for religious liberty.
As reported in the last Court Report, on May 17, 1999, the Supreme Court granted review of an important case, which clearly impacts the use of the Commerce Clause in RLPA. As we reviewed this case and the decisions upon which it is based, we have become convinced that RLPAs use of the Commerce Clause will be declared unconstitutional.
The RLPA now moves to the Senate where Senator Orrin Hatch is expected to introduce it. For more on RLPA, see http://www.hslda.org/nationalcenter/alerts/rlpa/.