Friday, September 29, 2006

We have minions?! Why didn't I get one?

Since someone asked about it, I'll share with you all the horrible bill called Public Expression of Religion Act(PERA) (S. 3696 / H.R. 2679). It's being advanced by the American Legion (who has been kind of obsessed with hating us over the past few years) and a group of far-right religious groups. Sadly, it passed the house earlier this week with a vote of 244-173. Thankfully it's not likely to reach the Senate floor before they recess for the election.

This legislation would bar damages and awards of attorney's fees to winning parties in Establishment Clause cases. It would, for the first time ever, single out one area protected by the First Amendment and prevent its full enforcement. This prohibition would apply to all Establishment Clause cases, including those involving illegal religious coercion of public school students or blatant discrimination against particular religions.

This means that even when we win in court, we would still have to pay for our costs. Without the threat of having to pay attorneys fees or damages, there is no reason for school districts or other government entities not to push the envelope and enact blatantly unconstitutional policies. Why wouldn't another school board with a similar mind set as that of the old Dover board try to require the teaching of intelligent design? The worst that could happen would be they'd have to stop. The ACLU and other groups like us would have to greatly reduce the number of cases we can take, if we don't receive attorneys fees for the cases we win. (Just for the record, the Dover case cost over $1 million to try.)

But the people this would most hurt would be our clients, often times people who have had to risk the censure of their community to stand up for their rights. (By the way, the American Legion has referred to our clients as "mascot plaintiffs." Tell that to Tammy Kitzmiller and company.)

The other side has repeatedly tried to frame this as the "anti-ACLU bill" or the "defund the ACLU bill." Here's what the bill's sponsor, Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN) had to say:

"Because of PERA, Americans will have the opportunity to fight the systematic agenda of the ACLU and their minions to remove the vestiges of our religious heritage in this nation," Hostettler said in a written release after House passage. "Patriots will have their day in court."


Wow. Even more incredible is the disingenuous description of PERA Hostettler has on his website:

H.R. 2679, The Public Expression of Religion Act (PERA) is a bill inrtoduced [sic] by Congressman Hostettler that allows "establishment clause" cases to have the opportunity to be heard before a court of law.

and

PERA allows Americans to defend the symbols and expressions of our nation's rich religious heritage in the sunlight of a courtroom before a judge rather than being settled outside the boundaries of America's legal system

Last time I checked, these cases already had the chance to be tried in a court of law.

I have to end this post before my blood pressure shoots any higher.

Sara in Philly

9 Comments:

Anonymous Atheism Quotes said...

The part that steams me the most about this is the LIE that we're trying to repress their religious freedom!

All we want is to keep THEIR views from being forced on us in Constitutionally protected areas of civic life.

They can speak all they want about their beliefs, just not in my son's schools, not in our courts, not in governmentally sponsored
events.

They've been spoiled for so long because people were afraid to say anything. Now that we want our rights, they think we're trying to destroy them.

Idiots.

2:49 PM  
Anonymous Keanus said...

This bill is bad, very bad, but, as you point out, it's unlikely to pass the Senate. Hostettler has offered it for the last four of five years and this is the first time the House has actually voted on it. Maybe if the fall elections go well (the Democrats win more seats) it won't ever come up again. However, there is an equally pernicious bill, H. R. 4364, The Public Prayer Protection Act of 2005, from a Florida Rep that has been in committee since last year. It purportedly would make it legal in contravention of the Bill of Right for any public official to pray or preach to his (or her) heart's content from the public pedestal and forbids the federal courts from interfering. It's yet too make it to the floor for a vote, but were the Republicans to hold their own in November, I'm sure it will be pushed.

1:32 PM  
Anonymous The Bidge said...

As much as I hate barratry (and so many lawsuits are utterly frivolous), I simply don't see this bill as a good thing. Juries and judges should be free to determine whether court costs and fees are to be paid by the loser on a case by case basis, as is, I believe, presently done. Simple as that.

With respect to Atheism's opinion-- and I should point out that I am not religious or practice any faith--I fail to see how putting up Christmas trees or Easter decorations in public schools, public venues, or in government places "forces" anyone's particular religious view on anyone, or that a government is de facto sponsoring religion. (I can see, however, that certain icons such as the Ten Commandments display in a Georgia courthouse may give pause to those whose beliefs differ. Then again, these were the tenets by which this country's laws were founded. It is also historical.)

People were not afraid to speak out against religion, certainly not in recent memory. It occurs to me that we were all far more tolerant and less spiteful fifteen to twenty years ago. Sitting on the sidelines, I can say without reservation that there is a strong movement to repress Christianity. Which in the end makes little difference to me. I do wonder how long it will be before churches will be unable to display crosses upon their spires, since these could be viewed from public property, and clearly they are offensive... Yes, that's silly, but it's precisely where we're heading.

But, I'll grant everyone who disagrees a concession. If mention of any religion reference worries you, right now burn all of your paper money, give away your change. (Or send all your money to me, I could certainly use it.)

Strange how those who seek to be monetarily rewarded for being "forced" to view religous icons and references in public--those poor, indefensible people who have suffered greatly by these things--have no trouble taking and spending the money they receive, all of which has "In God We Trust" on it. Just a little bit of irony. (And please don't bother saying you don't have any choice. There are always choices. Sometimes none of them are ideal, but that's life.)

So let's be honest. There has likely never been one person in America who was genuinely offended by someone praying in a school or elsewhere. Oh, many probably feel uncomfortable, perhaps unsure what to do, whether or how to participate, whether they might be seen as rude if they don't. To say you were truly offended is to be disingenuous and intolerant, and in a great many cases simply spiteful when a lawsuit is filed--too many people are seeking to make money by being "offended" or presuming their rights were trampled on. We have no constitutional protections against feeling uncomfortable, but I suspect we soon will.

Back to the bill passed by the House. Frankly, what a waste of time. Our two-party system of government fails us every day (it would probably be worse without parties, but it's hard to say for sure). Sadly, we (loosely) voted these people in... It is inevitable that American democracy will fail if we do not reform the way our Reps and Senators do business on our behalf.

I do not feel adequately represented. All politicians are only after their own best interests. On my behalf, will the ACLU sue the government for being ineffectual morons? (Just a thought...)

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Atheism Quotes said...

To quote bidge;
"So let's be honest. There has likely never been one person in America who was genuinely offended by someone praying in a school or elsewhere. Oh, many probably feel uncomfortable, perhaps unsure what to do, whether or how to participate, whether they might be seen as rude if they don't."

I think you should check out this article:
http://www.cwnews.com/news/viewstory.cfm?recnum=7471

It's a summary of a lawsuit about four Jewish children who were *forced* to bow their heads during prayer and were actually threatened for not following the "right" God.

So with all due respect, I find it HIGHLY ignorant to say this sort of thing is nothing more than just an inconvenience. There are whole areas of this country where you risk being singled out and persecuted for not being Christian.

As far as currency is concerned, do you know the reason WHY "In God we trust" was put on our money? So in the future, historians who found our currency wouldn't think we were godless like the Communists. It was added at the height of yet another time of domestic persecution.

If you have a better idea of how we should shop, I'm open to your suggestions. You have to pick your battles.

And making sure MY son isn't forced to box his head during prayer in a public school is one battle I will take as far as I have to if the time comes.

5:02 PM  
Anonymous Alan said...

RE: "I fail to see how putting up Christmas trees or Easter decorations in public schools, public venues, or in government places "forces" anyone's particular religious view on anyone, or that a government is de facto sponsoring religion."


I suggest you talk to a Muslim or Jewish friend about this issue. It may help you to get past your failings.

Christmas trees and Easter decorations are Christian symbols. When a PUBLIC school displays them, the non-Christians are being told they do not belong, that their beliefs do not count, that they are OUT.

This is VERY REAL. Once again, talk to your Muslim and Jewish friends and you will be very surprised by how REAL this ostrasisim REALLY IS.

This is especially true for children, who do not yet have the maturity to form independent judgements or resist presure from figures of authority. Since these children are NOT second class citizens, for THEIR government to treat them this way is WRONG.

5:38 PM  
Blogger C.L. Russo said...

"This bill is bad, very bad, but, as you point out, it's unlikely to pass the Senate."

This is exactly what I and many other online poker players thought a month ago, when language passed the house.

Conservatives will do anything to progress their one-religion agenda.

BTW, I'm a member. Why can't I find someone to email about the privacy infringing online gambling laws

8:54 PM  
Anonymous The Bidge said...

Atheist, here's a link for that incident which more fully describes the case, should you need it again someday (you could post the summary for the lazy readers and this one for folks who want to know more about it).

http://www.holysmoke.org/sdhok/jewish.htm

Intolerance goes both ways. That's an extreme scenario, and while I've never lived in Alabama and cannot speak for the climate of tolerance there, I can certainly say such things are abnormal elsewhere in the country. Rarely is anyone forced to do anything of the sort. My point was that in "normal" society, when people pray or put up decorations or whatever, most rational people of different faiths simply get on with getting on.

Alan: I don't have any Jewish friends presently, but when I was in school (a long time ago at 20 to 30 years ago) I did know so Jewish students and none of them complained about X-mas decorations. In fact, we asked them then if it bothered them and they all said, "Nope." Then they told us about how Jewish holidays were celebrated, and we all learned something about each other's culture. That's what normal, rational people do I believe. Understand rather than fear and moan about something.

Also, Andy, I live in London, England, where there is a substantial Muslim population, as well as Hindu, and considering that England is predominantly secular to begin with, when X-mas rolls around, nobody complains about decorations. Indeed, people seem willing to let everyone celebrate how they choose without resorting to lawsuits claming bias and what have you. So, I've already asked my Muslim friends and co-workers how they feel about Christian holiday celebrations and decorations and all of it, and every one of them have said they have no issue with it.

So, do tell me, why is it that here in England the majority of people of all cultures can be sensible and tolerant, and in America it's somehow different? The truth is that I don't think there's any difference at all. I think the majority of Americans feel precisely the same way as the majority of British citizens, and that it's a small minority who seek to make a big deal out of this whole thing.

Of course, forcing people to do anything against their beliefs is wrong. There's no excuse for the behaviour in Alabama, but I'm hardly surprised by it. We certainly do not live in an ideal world, and we never will. There are always indviduals and groups who believe they are the only ones who are right, that there is no room for other beliefs, and the result is persercuting and ostracizing "non-beleivers" and "infidels." Those people are simply morons.

Well. Nobody ever forced me to pray. I lived in Utah in my late teens, a place where the culture is predominantly Mormon, and no one forced me to do anything at all. The only trouble I experienced was that I was sometimes unable to date some girls because I wasn't Mormon. It was their parents' beliefs that only Mormons should be dating Mormons. It sucked, but I didn't sue anyone for it...

2:11 AM  
Anonymous Alan said...

RE: "I don't have any Jewish friends presently, but when I was in school (a long time ago at 20 to 30 years ago) I did know so Jewish students and none of them complained about X-mas decorations"

You asked some fellow students? I wouldn't be surprised if minority students talking to their peers wouldn't want to rock the boat. I talk to VERY NORMAL, HIGHLY RATIONAL Jewish and Muslim adults about these issue frequently, and they are, rightly, very concerned about the forced exposure of their children to Christian ideology. I'm not Jewish, and I enjoy Christmas, but I am also concerned about my child's exposure to someone else's Christian ideology in a PUBLIC school that I (in part) paid for and for which no real alternative exists.

As far as your perceptions are concerned, the fact that you live in England might make a big difference. Here in America we have REAL religion. The kind that left England, The Church of, in 1620. Guess what, they are still around! And they are not exactly the "educated, intelligent segment of society." They want to teach "creation science" in the public schools. Do you have to put up with that in England? If you did, you might see things a bit differently.

I am not up on England's church-state issues, but I do remember some time ago that Tony Blair was proposing to fund MUSLIM oriented public schools because Muslims were concerned that their children were being raised as Christians. So there may be more dissatisfaction then you are personally aware of. I sympathize with the Muslims, but the proposed solution seems backwards to me. You might want to suggest to your fellow countrymen that they simply take religion out of the schools entirely and leave that up to the parents on Friday, Saturday and/or Sunday.

I hate to lecture to you about America, since you seem to have some direct experience living here, but I would like to remind you that here in America, we do not have a NATIONAL public education system. We don't even have much in the way of STATE educational systems. What we have are lots and lots of locally funded COUNTY educational "systems." In this environment religious extremism can often gain the upper hand to the determent of a local minority. As noted above, in America religious extremism is not simply a "political philosophy thought experiment"; it is real. Being vigilant and on the defensive is necessary.

Another difference between America and England is our explicit, written constitution with explicit, fundamental rights. I read the other day that the 400-year old right of protection against double jeopardy in a court of law was overturned by a mere act of parliament! Maybe I've got this wrong, but it seems to me that this should have been much more of a big deal than what it seems to have been. Here in America (Praise be to God!) it would be!

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Alan said...

RE: "(I can see, however, that certain icons such as the Ten Commandments display in a Georgia courthouse may give pause to those whose beliefs differ. Then again, these were the tenets by which this country's laws were founded. It is also historical.)"

The ten commandment were the tenants that American laws were founded upon? Where in the world did you get THAT idea? Have you ever read John Locke's Two Treatises of Government? Compare it with the Constitution of the United States. I think you might then understand the actual foundations of the American system of government.

11:51 AM  

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