Americans United for Separation of Church and State today decried impending politically motivated action in the U.S. House of Representatives on bills that threaten basic constitutional rights.
The House is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a “court-stripping” bill that would bar federal courts from hearing challenges involving the Pledge of Allegiance and a bill that would intervene in an ongoing legal battle over a towering Christian cross on public property in California.
“The leaders of the House are shamelessly pandering to their Religious Right base,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The forthcoming votes on these measures hit a new low for election-year posturing.
“These bills are not meaningless resolutions,” Lynn concluded. “They pose a threat to the fundamental rights of religious minorities and the American system of government. Congress is interfering with the ability of the federal courts to decide important church-state questions and to enforce decades-old fundamental constitutional rights. That’s an appalling attack on the separation of powers and the judiciary’s role in protecting the rights of religious minorities from majoritarian control.”
The so-called “Pledge Protection Act of 2005” (H.R. 2389) would strip federal courts from hearing legal challenges involving the Pledge of Allegiance. The measure states that no federal court, including the U.S. Supreme Court, would have jurisdiction to “hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution, of the Pledge of Allegiance.” The bill deeply threatens the separation of powers and would make it impossible for religious minorities to vindicate a fundamental constitutional right, recognized by the Supreme Court in 1943, of religious minorities against coerced recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools
Representatives are also set to consider H.R. 5683, a bill that would transfer ownership of a plot of land in San Diego that features a towering cross to the federal government. After 17 years of litigation, a court has ruled that the Christian religious symbol, which sits atop a prominent hill above San Diego and has been referred to in historical maps as the “Mount Soledad Easter Cross,” violates church-state separation and ordered its removal. In early July, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy issued a stay of that order during the appeals process.
"This bill is a gratuitous attempt by Congress to improperly intervene in an ongoing lawsuit,” concluded Lynn. “Congress needs to butt out.”
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.