The House and Senate have passed a bill that gives greater protection to religious organizations in zoning disputes with local governments. Under the new law, which awaits President Clinton's signature, governments would have to prove a "compelling interest" in order to restrict the construction, use, or destruction of houses of worship.The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act also gives greater leeway to prison inmates to practice their faith as long as they do not undermine prison security.The bill follows the landmark Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which the Supreme Court struck down in 1997 as a violation of states' rights. The new bill received broad support from Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and parachurch groups.The rejection of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act "left religious groups in general, and religious minorities most particularly, without the constitutional protections that have made religious experience in America so unique and remarkable," says David Saperstein, head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.Prison ministries say the bill also validates a number of faith-based programs that have helped rehabilitate inmates."It is significant that the Senate has given protection to prisoners' access to these life-changing religious programs," says Pat Nolan, president of Justice Fellowship.

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