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


Two Overlooked Indiana Outcomes that Could Haunt the Christian Right
I think there are two underreported features of the fallout from Indiana that we should make sure do not get lost in the hoo......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Terms, Definitions & Glossaries for Writing about the Religious Right
One of the challenges in writing about the Religious Right and what to do about it is the matter of terms and definitions. That's......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
President Obama Can Help Stop Religious Discrimination
Barry Lynn, the longtime executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, recently posted an important essay at Huffington Post. In......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Marriage Matters: Thoughts On The Recent Unpleasantness In Indiana
Last week I taped an interview with Sister Maureen Fielder, host of "Interfaith Voices," a popular radio program exploring religious issues that is carried......
By Rob Boston (1 comment)
The Campaign Against Pro-LGBTQ Denominations
The recent endorsement of marriage equality by the Presbyterian Church (USA) seemed like a good moment to discuss the campaign to divide and conquer......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Upcoming Conference: From Abortion Rights to Social Justice
The 29th annual conference From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom will be held from April 10-12 at Hampshire......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Why Is Bishop Robert Finn Still In Power?
As I reported in September 2014, Bishop Robert Finn, head of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri has been under Vatican investigation to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (2 comments)
Thus It Was Prophesied in 2012: Ted Cruz Will Be VP, Or a Supreme Court Justice
This is a transcript, of pastor Larry Huch and Rafael Cruz, father of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, from an appearance Rafael Cruz made at......
By Bruce Wilson (1 comment)
Crusin with Cruz
Ted Cruz threw his hat into the ring, announcing his bid for President in the worship center at Jerry Falwell's University last night.  Mother......
By wilkyjr (4 comments)
Ted Cruz: Born From The Heart of the Dominionist Christian Right
[welcome, Thom Hartmann Show fans, here is a short introduction to my past coverage on Ted Cruz and the dominionist Christian right] Did you......
By Bruce Wilson (1 comment)
Coming Soon to Utah: An International Festival of Bigotry
An international network of some of the world's most vitriolic Religious Right activists and self-proclaimed orthodox religious leaders is holding its ninth global conference......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Bumpy Lane: Religious Right Operative Seeks To Build (Another) Church-Based Political Machine
Here's what the country doesn't need right now: another zealot aiming to mobilize right-wing pastors to become a force in electoral politics.Yet that's what......
By Rob Boston (1 comment)
Team Jeb Bush's Liaison to Religious Right Is Hardcore Culture Warrior
In 2008, Senator John McCain's campaign recognized that he needed to shore up his credentials with the Religious Right, which was skeptical about his......
By Bill Berkowitz (3 comments)
American ISIS: Christian Reconstructionists And `Biblical Law' In America
Every now and then, while scanning the day's news, I come across a headline that's hard to believe.Like this one: "California lawyer proposes ballot......
By Rob Boston (3 comments)
Will our Prisons Overflow with Christians this Summer?
Many leaders of the Christian Right, from megachurch pastors like Rick Warren to the top prelates in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have......
By Frederick Clarkson (3 comments)

Evangelicals Seduced By Ayn Rand Worship Crypto-Satanism, Suggest Scholars
[update: also see my closely related stories, "Crypto-Cultists" and "Cranks": The Video Paul Ryan Hoped Would Go Away, and The Paul Ryan/Ayn Rand/Satanism Connection Made Simple] "I give people Ayn Rand with trappings" -......
Bruce Wilson (10 comments)
Ted Cruz Anointed By Pastor Who Says Jesus Opposed Minimum Wage, and Constitution Based on the Bible
In the video below, from a July 19-20th, 2013 pastor's rally at a Marriott Hotel in Des Moines, Iowa, Tea Party potentate Ted Cruz is blessed by religious right leader David Barton, who claims......
Bruce Wilson (0 comments)
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 (3 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 (1 comment)
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 (3 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 (2 comments)
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 (1 comment)

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.