Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                          November 16, 1993

                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

                          The South Grounds

9:15 A.M. EST

	     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President,
for those fine remarks, and to the members of Congress, the chaplains
of the House and the Senate, and to all of you who worked so hard to
help this day become a reality.  Let me especially thank the
Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion for the central role they
played in drafting this legislation and working so hard for its

	     It is interesting to note, as the Vice President said,
what a broad coalition of Americans came together to make this bill a
reality.  It's interesting to note that that coalition produced a 97-
to-3 vote in the United States Senate, and a bill that had such broad
support it was adopted on a voice vote in the House.

	     I'm told that, as many of the people in the coalition
worked together across ideological and religious lines, some new
friendships were formed and some new trust was established, which
shows, I suppose, that the power of God is such that even in the
legislative process miracles can happen.  (Laughter.)

	     We all have a shared desire here to protect perhaps the
most precious of all American liberties, religious freedom.  Usually
the signing of legislation by a president is a ministerial act, often
a quiet ending to a turbulent legislative process.  Today, this event
assumes a more majestic quality because of our ability together to
affirm the historic role that people of faith have played in the
history of this country and the constitutional protections those who
profess and express their faith have always demanded and cherished.

	     The power to reverse legislation by legislation, a
decision of the United States Supreme Court, is a power that is
rightly hesitantly and infrequently exercised by the United States
Congress.  But this is an issue in which that extraordinary measure
was clearly called for.

	     As the Vice President said, this act reverses the
Supreme Court's decision, Employment Division against Smith, and
reestablishes a standards that better protects all Americans of all
faiths in the exercise of their religion in a way that I am convinced
is far more consistent with the intent of the founders of this nation
than the Supreme Court decision.

	     More than 50 cases have been decided against individuals
making religious claims against government action since that decision
was handed down.  This act will help to reverse that trend -- by
honoring the principle that our laws and institutions should not
impede or hinder, but rather should protect and preserve fundamental
religious liberties.

	     The free exercise of religion has been called the first
freedom -- that which originally sparked the development of the full
range of the Bill of Rights.  Our founders cared a lot about
religion.  And one of the reasons they worked so hard to get the
First Amendment into the Bill of Rights at the head of the class is
that they well understood what could happen to this country, how both
religion and government could be perverted if there were not some
space created and some protection provided.  They knew that religion
helps to give our people the character without which a democracy
cannot survive.  They knew that there needed to be a space of freedom
between government and people of faith that otherwise government
might usurp.

	     They have seen now, all of us, that religion and
religious institutions have brought forth faith and discipline,
community and responsibility over two centuries for ourselves and
enabled us to live together in ways that I believe would not have
been possible.  We are, after all, the oldest democracy now in
history, and probably the most truly multiethnic society on the face
of the Earth.  And I am convinced that neither one of those things
would be true today had it not been for the importance of the First
Amendment and the fact that we have kept faith with it for 200 years.

	     What this law basically says is that the government
should be held to a very high level of proof before it interferes
with someone's free exercise of religion.  This judgment is shared by
the people of the United States as well as by the Congress.  We
believe strongly that we can never -- we can never be too vigilant in
this work.

	     Let me make one other comment if I might before I close
and sit down and sign this bill.  There is a great debate now abroad
in the land which finds itself injected into several political races
about the extent to which people of faith can seek to do God's will
as political actors.  I would like to come down on the side of
encouraging everybody to act on what they believe is the right thing
to do.  There are many people in this country who strenuously
disagree with me on what they believe are the strongest grounds of
their faiths.  I encourage them to speak out.  I encourage all
Americans to reach deep inside to try to determine what it is that
drives their lives most deeply.

	     As many of you know, I have been quite moved by Steven
Carter's book, The Culture of Disbelief.  He makes a compelling case
that today Americans of all political persuasions and all regions
have created a climate in this country in which some people believe
that they are embarrassed to say that they advocate a course of
action simply because they believe it is the right thing; because
they believe it is dictated by their faith, by what they discern to
be, with their best efforts, the will of God.

	     I submit to you today, my fellow Americans, that we can
stand that kind of debate in this country.  We are living in a
country where the most central institution of our society, the
family, has been under assault for 30 years.  We are living in a
country in which 160,000 school children don't go to school every day
because they're afraid someone will shoot them, or beat them up, or
knife them.  We are living in a country now where gun shots are the
single leading cause of death among teenage boys.  We are living in a
country where people can find themselves shot in the cross fire of
teenagers who are often better armed than the police who are trying
to protect other people from illegal conduct.

	     It is high time we had an open and honest reaffirmation
of the role of American citizens of faith -- not so that we can
agree, but so that we can argue and discourse and seek the truth and
seek to heal this troubled land.

	     So today I ask you to also think of that.  We are a
people of faith.  We have been so secure in that faith that we have
enshrined in our Constitution protection for people who profess no
faith.  And good for us for doing so.  That is what the First
Amendment is all about.  But let us never believe that the freedom of
religion imposes on any of us some responsibility to run from our
convictions.  Let us instead respect one another's faiths, fight to
the death to preserve the right of every American to practice
whatever convictions he or she has, but bring our values back to the
table of American discourse to heal our troubled land.

	     Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

	     (The bill is signed.)  (Applause.)

                                 END9:25 A.M. EST