$150,000. That’s how much it cost the ACLU to successfully win its lawsuit forcing Georgia to remove a religious monument in its Supreme Court. Georgia had to reimburse the ACLU these legal fees. The Houston Chronical recently ran an article about a bill that just passed the U.S. House, and is now being considered in committee in the Senate Judiciary, The Public Expression of Religion Act,. This act would modify a current practice of granting attorney fees to any plaintiff that successfully sues the government for a violation of the constitution This would set lawsuits seeking religious freedom different than lawsuits involving most other constitutional deprivations. The bill passed with 98% of Republicans for it and 87% of Democrats against. it.
Its official title is:
To amend the Revised Statutes of the United States to prevent the use of the legal system in a manner that extorts money from State and local governments, and the Federal Government, and inhibits such governments’ constitutional actions under the first, tenth, and fourteenth amendments.
Extortion seems a little strong to describe a successful lawsuit defending religious freedom. Why are Republicans so in favor of this bill? Aren’t they for religious freedom? In general, I would say they are, but since most government agencies are run by people who identify themselves as Christian, most of these lawsuits are in opposition to state efforts to promulgate Christian beliefs on everyone. Take for example, the furor over the massive rock inscribed with the ten commandments in Georgia. If Governor Huckabee did something nutty like that ( and even he is not that nutty) a private citizen or group could sue to have it removed. The attorney general would have to defend the state most likely. It could take years of litigation and thousands cost thousands of dollars in legal fees. The Governor wouldn’t care, he would have “free” representation. If this bill becomes law, any group that sues would not be reimbursed even if they win. Their only victory would be that the religious monument would have to be removed. Few people would pursue such a lawsuit if they knew that even if they won, they would receive no compensation for defending their constitutional rights.
Sometimes you hear independent and 3rd party candidates saying there is no difference in Republicans and Democrats – and that you shouldn’t vote for either. It is bills just like this one in which the differences are make strikingly clear. If you feel like telling your senator you are for or against this bill, U.S. Senate version is S. 3696.