Sunday, April 26, 2015

Why Senator Jesse Helms voted against the RFRA of 1993

In the 2015: Day to Day, April 20 post, Gov. McCrory stakes claim against religious legislation, sort of, it was noted that Jesse Helms, the United States senator from North Carolina, voted against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Why did he do that? We asked, and thanks to Andrew Curliss of The News & Observer, and the Jesse Helms Center at Wingate College, we know. In today’s newspaper, in the “Under the Dome” space, Curliss quotes Helms, in his 20th year in the Senate, from records of the Jesse Helms Center:

I believe my credentials are intact regarding my record of support for the religious liberties envisioned by our Founding Fathers. This nation was created by men and women convinced that the right to observe one’s faith, free from the heavy hand of government, is the most cherished of individual freedoms. Having said that, I am obliged to observe that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act purports to strengthen the religious protections afforded by the constitution. In fact, with a name like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, how can anyone vote against it? Unfortunately, around this place you learn quickly that catchy names on bills do not tell what Paul Harvey calls “the rest of the story.”

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has less to do with our legal and historical notions of religious liberties than it does with the creation of new rights and employment opportunities for the nation’s lawyers. This legislation when enacted will make it easier for litigants with many different and singular religious beliefs to attack virtually all state and federal laws that somehow burden acts that individuals engage in as part of their religious practice. Mark my words. Once again, the courthouse doors are about to fly open as thousands will demand protection for religious practices as varied as the use of hallucinogenic drugs and animal sacrifice.

Helms’ objection was rooted in his dislike of what he felt was and would be frivolous law suits. Except when he needed one, lawyers were not very high on his list of appreciated careers. His ideas about the RFRA ring true today. It’s ironic that many who oppose the RFRA today and attempts by states to enact and “strengthen” it on the state level would probably agree with Senator Helms but never vote for him, and his thoughts in objection to the law are similar to those who would oppose him in an election.
-------------------- word of the day
simulacrum (noun) [sim-yuh-ley-kruh m]: a slight, unreal, or superficial likeness or semblance

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