Texas Supreme Court to Tackle Religious Freedom Law

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When a pastor set up a rehab program for prison parolees across the street from his church, the Coastal Bend city of Sinton stepped in to stop it.

Now, the Texas Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether a zoning ordinance that shuttered the Grace Christian Fellowship's program violated the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Oral arguments are expected in March or April.

Kelly Shackelford is a spokesman for the nonprofit Liberty Legal Institution, which defends religious freedoms. He says the outcome of the case could have a national impact because the Texas law is similar to laws in other states.

In 1999, the Legislature passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act with help from then-Texas Governor George W. Bush.

It says state and local governments must show a compelling interest -- such as protection of public health or safety -- before limiting the practice of religion.

Sinton attorney Carlos Villareal says the courts properly ruled the city had a compelling public safety interest in keeping convicted offenders away from schools, residences and playgrounds.