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Legislators to go slow on religion act

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A Utah legislative interim committee is not in a rush to make the partially overturned federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act a state law.

But members of the Legislative Judiciary Interim Committee didn't rule out such a move in the future, either.The committee voted unanimously Wednesday to "wait and see" what other states are doing with the act. It was passed in 1993, and parts of it were rejected by the Supreme Court last year. The court said it violated state rights. The act, designed to guarantee religious freedom, had received ardent support from often-oppositional groups such as the religious right and the American Civil Liberties Union.

At least four states - Florida, Hawaii, Connecticut and Rhode Island - have enacted their own versions of the now-defunct act. Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, won the committee's approval to study the actions in those states, as well as other proposals, before deciding whether to enact legislation in Utah.

The U.S. Constitution offers only a simple, two-clause statement on religious freedom. The failed act affected only the free-exercise of religion clause, with no impact on the establishment clause.

Sen. Craig Taylor, R-Kaysville, Senate co-chairman of the legislative commitee, said Utah needs to change the language in its constitution to match federal language if it doesn't want to be the site of continued civil rights complaints about religious freedom and separation of church and state.

Utah's language on religious freedom is much more strict than that in the U.S. Constitition. The broader provisions were required by the federal government when Utah wanted to become a state because of the dominance of the LDS Church in Utah Territory.

Hillyard suggested that Utah's stricter language may do a better job of promoting religious "diversity."