Friday, September 08, 2006

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY: House Bill Would Make It Harder to Sue Over Church-State Separation

Associated Baptist Press (ABP) alerts us to the following situation ...
Some members of Congress want to make it harder for citizens to sue the government over religious-liberty abuses.

If a House panel has its way, groups that win federal cases against the government for violating church-state separation won't be able to reclaim the legal expenses they've incurred.

On a 12-5 vote Sept. 7, the House Judiciary Committee passed the "Public Expression of Religion Act of 2006." In cases involving the First Amendment's establishment clause, the bill would not allow federal courts to require government entities to reimburse the legal costs of the individual or group that filed the lawsuit.
That's a great way to open a news report on a story that affects the author's personal worldview. Bleeding-heart liberals weep over such horrible news.

However, here is the part many conservative evangelical Christians and pro-family groups have wanted to hear.
Supporters say the bill, if passed and signed into law, would keep special-interest groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union from "abusing the system" when filing challenges to government actions that may endorse religion. Opponents say it would have a chilling effect on the ability of religious minorities to defend their freedoms.
Talk about chilling? My freedom of expression, my free exercise of citizenship, and my constitutional guarantee of free interaction with my government without fear of reprisal or interference has had freezer-burn for years due to the ACLU-ites and their ilk!
The committee's vote was split down party lines, with all 12 Republicans present supporting the bill and Democrats opposing it.

The establishment clause bars the government from endorsing or inhibiting religious groups or doctrines. Currently, federal judges routinely require the government entity to pay the legal expenses of a plaintiff who successfully asserts an establishment-clause violation.

Without such reimbursements, many church-state separationist groups and other civil-rights groups could not afford to file such lawsuits in the first place.
Good! It is about time the other side felt what we've been feeling for years. Even if passed into law and imperfect, perhaps after a time the wrinkles will be worked out and everyone will benefit!

The ABP article continues ...
The American Civil Liberties Union frequently sues government entities for violating the establishment clause. They issued a press release denouncing the House vote.

"[T]he ability to recover attorneys' fees in civil-rights and constitutional cases, including establishment-clause cases, is necessary to help protect the religious freedom of all Americans and to keep religion government-free," the statement said, noting the fees in such suits often total "tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars."
At least the reporter filled in all the necessary blanks before he closed a piece he opened with patent bias.
Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.), the bill's chief House sponsor, said the act was necessary to prevent such groups from intimidating governments into agreeing to out-of-court settlements.

"It is outrageous that public officials have been threatened with the prospect of financial ruin merely because they wish to defend their constitutional rights in a court of law," he said in a statement. "This is a big victory for Americans who care about our rich religious heritage in this country." [...]

According to sources close to the Judiciary Committee, Republican leaders are likely to bring the bill to the House floor as early as the week of Sept. 11.
Don't get too excited however, a similar bill in the Senate is unlikely to make it out of that chamber's Judiciary Committee ... which is no surprise, what with Arlene Spectacle chairing that one.

Take note: the House the bill is H.R. 2679 (a PDF file); the Senate bill is S. 3696. Write someone and support this sucker!

Read Full Story

Ann Althouse
Blog from the Capital (NOTE: Several links)
Religion Clause

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