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.
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