Church-State Lawsuit Restriction Advances In House

Federal lawmakers are continuing their push for a bill that would limit the ability of citizens to challenge church-state violations in court.

In early September, the House Judiciary Committee approved the so-called “Public Expression of Religion Act,” which would bar plaintiffs from recovering legal fees and out-of-pocket expenses in lawsuits successfully challenging government violations of church-state separation. Committee approval of H.R. 2679 paves the way for the entire House to consider it.

Religious Right lobbying outfits have urged passage of the bill, arguing that it is needed to dissuade lawsuits against religious displays on public property. Americans United for Separation of Church and State and other civil liberties organizations have countered that the measure is far more expansive and would be used to block financial reimbursement in cases ranging from government-organized religion in public schools to public funding of religious schools and other ministries.

“It’s remarkable to me that at a time when our country faces so many serious issues, the Judiciary Committee has nothing better to do than pander to the Religious Right with this mean-spirited bill,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It’s another sad example of how this ‘do-nothing Congress’ earned its name.”

Americans United’s Legislative Department has sent letters to House members urging them to thwart the measure.