How the GOP Summer Agenda Would Remove Penalties for Religious Freedom Violations
Don Byrd printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Jun 30, 2006 at 10:15:17 AM EST

As I posted earlier at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty's blog, House Republicans have announced their legislative plan for the rest of the summer, leading up to the mid-term elections in November. Hidden in the "American Values Agenda," amid the traditional fare is HR 2679, the "Public Expression of Religion Act." The bill, which got a hearing in the House Constitution Subcommittee last week, would keep state and local governments from having to pay damages or attorney's fees as a result of violating the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

Think about that. Imagine your local government decides to teach a version of creationism in science class, or promote atheism in social studies, lead evangelistic prayers during official government meetings, or offer government grants for Christian conversion efforts. This bill would effectively remove your ability to hold the government accountable. And, to add insult to that injury to your religious liberty (...and it is your religious liberty. When the religious freedom of any of us is threatened, we are all threatened.), you as the plaintiff would be required to pay the massive legal fees it takes to bring such a lawsuit proving unconstitutional actions.

Maybe most troubling is the case of one-time incidents, in which it is too late for injunctive relief to offer any help; damages and the recovery of attorney's fees are the only deterring tool available. Without them, and if this bill is passed, governments which have been proved to have violated religious liberty rights suffer no judicial consequences beyond a declaration that they were wrong. Absent the risk of lawsuits and damages, there would be precious little practical protection for religious freedom under the Establishment Clause.

As hearing panelist Marc Stern (Counsel for the American Jewish Congress) said of PERA [my transcription], in response to a question from Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), "It is an open invitation for people to defy the Constitution in the interest of political convenience at their will."

There may in fact be reason to amend and improve the current provisions for damages and attorney's fees in such cases. Certainly, plaintiff attorneys could abuse the fee-shifting policy. And it is possible for local governments to have violated the Constitution while nonetheless making a good faith effort to follow the law. But this bill addresses none of those concerns directly and instead offers a draconian undoing of the checks and balances in place today for enforcement of the Establishment Clause.

The PERA is not about stemming abuse, but betrays the frustration of those who simply disagree with that area of First Amendment jurisprudence, and have run out of ways to litigate their viewpoint. They would instead simply make it easier for government to flaunt the law with impunity.

The promoters of this ill-conceived legislation should not despair on behalf of religion - on the contrary. If there is one thing I've learned from the Baptist Joint Committee, it is that a strong Establishment Clause protects religion. BJC counsel Hollyn Hollman says it this way: "Religious expression is not threatened by the enforcement of the Establishment Clause, but is protected by it. The Establishment Clause promotes religious freedom for all by protecting against government sponsorship of religion. The tremendous amount of religious expression in our culture is a tribute to the success of our constitutional model."

When government is forced to stay out of the business of religion, all religions benefit. Elected officials need to hear as much from religious voices. Insofar as this bill may be an attempt to pander to religious voters, it is both misguided and mistaken about the interests of people of faith. As Hollman also says, "This is another example of some Members of Congress turning our first freedom on its head. You can't protect the `expression of religious freedom' by gutting the Establishment Clause."




Display:

WWW Talk To Action


The Theocrats' New Clothes: A Naked Call for Political Dominion
Like the monarch in Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale, The Emperor's New Clothes, the theocratic ambitions of the organizers of the big Christian Right......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
The Republican Diversity Program... Is Working
The Washington Post recently underscored the larger point in this post, which goes far beyond the issues of the GOP diversity program. So I......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Unholy Alliance for Bloomberg's Everytown for Gun Safety
When I obtained a post from a private email listserv of gun control advocates, I wasn't sure what to do with it. Then I......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Bobby Jindal's Big Rally for Christian Right Dominion
There is a big Christian Right rally in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Saturday, January 24th. The event, called The Response, is intended to, among......
By Frederick Clarkson (4 comments)
Dominionism, Gov. Rick Perry and The Response Rally of 2011
The David Pakman Show recently rebroadcast this "Classic Interview"  with Rachel Tabachnick in which they discuss her groundbreaking work on the New Apostolic Reformation,......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Religious Freedom as Revolution
In which I discuss Religious Freedom Day on the David Pakman Show. I said, among other things, "The idea of religious freedom was one......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
President Obama's Religious Freedom Day Proclamation
As is the annual custom, Mr. Obama issued the the Presidential Proclamation for Religious Freedom Day, 2015. I have republished the whole thing after......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Seize the Day (Religious Freedom Day) on Social Media
Today is Religious Freedom Day! And there are ways to participate on social media on this, the most important national Day that most of......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Silencing Dissent: How Biased Civil Rights Policies Stifle Dialogue on Israel
"Silencing Dissent: How Biased Civil Rights Policies Stifle Dialogue on Israel" is a new article in Tikkun Magazine, (January 2015) by Chip Berlet and......
By Chip Berlet (0 comments)
Antisemitism and Islamophobia on U.S. College Campuses
Here are the Recommendations from the Report "Constructing Campus Conflict: Antisemitism and Islamophobia on U.S. College Campuses, 2007-2011: published by Political Research Associates, 2014......
By Chip Berlet (1 comment)
What Did Jefferson & 18th Century Evangelicals Have in Common?
What did Jefferson and 18th century evangelicals have in common?  If you guessed separation of church and state, you can go to the head......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Waking the Sleeping Beast of Religious Liberty
This piece originally appeared as an op-ed at LGBTQ Nation. Something remarkable happened in the run up to the decision of the U.S. Supreme......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Rousing Remarks: Remembering Mario Cuomo's Powerful Speech On Religion And Politics
Two memorable speeches were delivered in the early 1980s on separation of church and state. The first was by U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy......
By Rob Boston (0 comments)
Huckabee Dumps Fox News -- Might Jump in to the Race for 2016
According to a statement on his web site, tonight will be Mike Huckabee's last show on Fox where he has held forth on Saturday......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Seize The Day!: Upcoming Religious Freedom Event Provides An Opportunity For Separation Advocates
Note: Like all of my posts, this one is a cross-post from Americans United's "Wall of Separation" blog. Two weeks from today, the nation......
By Rob Boston (1 comment)

Galt and God: Ayn Randians and Christian Rightists Expand Ties
Ayn Rand's followers find themselves sharing a lot of common ground with the Christian Right these days. The Tea Party, with its stress on righteous liberty and a robust form of capitalism, has been......
JSanford (0 comments)
Witchhunts in Africa and the U.S.A.
Nigerian human rights activist Leo Igwe has recently written at least two blog posts about how some African Pentecostal churches are sending missionaries to Europe and the U.S.A. in an attempt to "re-evangelize the......
Diane Vera (0 comments)
Charles Taze Russell and John Hagee
No doubt exists that Texas mega-church Pastor John Hagee would be loathe to be associated with the theology of Pastor C.T. Russell (wrongly credited with founding the Jehovah's Witnesses) but their theological orbits, while......
COinMS (0 comments)
A death among the common people ... imagination.
Or maybe my title would better fit as “Laws, Books, where to find, and the people who trust them.”What a society we've become!The wise ones tell us over and over how the more things......
Arthur Ruger (0 comments)
Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part VI
This is part 6 of a series by guest front pager Mahanoy, originally dated November 15, 2007 which I had to delete and repost for technical reasons. It is referred to in this post,......
Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Republican infighting in Mississippi
After a bruising GOP runoff election for U.S. Senator, current MS Senator Thad Cochran has retained his position and will face Travis Childers (Democrat) in the next senate election. The MS GOP is fractured......
COinMS (2 comments)
America's Most Convenient Bank® refuses to serve Christians
Representatives of a well known faith-based charitable organization were refused a New Jersey bank’s notarization service by an atheist employee. After inquiring about the nature of the non-profit organization and the documents requiring......
Jody Lane (5 comments)
John Benefiel takes credit for GOP takeover of Oklahoma
Many of you know that Oklahoma has turned an unrecognizable shade of red in recent years.  Yesterday, one of the leading members of the New Apostolic Reformation all but declared that he was responsible......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
John Benefiel thinks America is under curse because Egyptians dedicated North America to Baal
You may remember that Rick Perry put together his "Response" prayer rallies with the help of a slew of NAR figures.  One of them was John Benefiel, an Oklahoma City-based "apostle."  He heads up......
Christian Dem in NC (5 comments)
Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Yes, that's right. We have totally lost our religious freedom in Mississippi and it must be restored by our legislators. ......
COinMS (1 comment)
Bill Gothard accused of harassing women and failing to report child abuse
Surprised no one's mentioned this, but one of the longest-standing leaders of the religious right is in a world of trouble.  Bill Gothard has been active in the fundie movement for over half......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
Eugene Delgaudio may lose his day job as Virginia county supervisor
Surprised no one's noticed this, but one of the nation's most virulent homophobes is in a fight to keep his day job.  Eugene Delgaudio is best known as the head of Public Advocate......
Christian Dem in NC (1 comment)
Starkville Becomes First City in Mississippi to Pass Resolution Recognizing LGBT Residents
This caught me by surprise. I guess times are a changin in Dixieland. ------------------------------------- Cross posted from the HRC blog. Starkville Becomes First City in Mississippi to Pass Resolution Recognizing LGBT Residents January 21,......
COinMS (0 comments)
Robert Knight: Running against evolution could potentially be a winner for the GOP
In one of the starkest instances yet of how far gone the religious right is, one of its leading activists thinks that he's found another potential wedge issue that could drive more people into......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
First Catholic official convicted in child sex abuse scandal has conviction overturned
Last year, Monsignor William Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's secretary for clergy, was convicted of reassigning a priest whom he knew had molested a young boy to a parish that had a school attached......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)

More Diaries...




All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.