Americans United Blasts House For Passage Of Fee-stripping Bill

AU's Lynn Says Measure Is 'A Repugnant Affront To The Civil Rights of All Americans'

The U.S. House of Representatives in full political mode approved a seriously flawed bill aimed at stopping citizens from challenging in court government-sponsored religious activities, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In a largely partisan vote, the House today passed the so-called “Public Expression of Religion Act,” which would make it much more difficult for those seeking to uphold the First Amendment principle of church-state separation. The bill, H.R. 2679, would deny legal fees and out-of-pocket expenses to plaintiffs who win lawsuits under the Fist Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which bans the government from promoting religion. It passed by a vote of 244-173.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said the House leadership is obsessed with playing to powerful Religious Right lobbying groups that have been pressing for the legislation.

“This bill is a sop to the Religious Right, but even worse a dangerous attack on the First Amendment,” Lynn said. “The House leadership is openly hostile to federal courts for upholding church-state separation and this bill reflects that motivation. The bill seeks to slam the courthouse doors on citizens who challenge government-sponsored religious activities. It is a repugnant affront to the civil rights of all Americans.”

The supporters of the bill argued today that the measure is needed to scuttle legal challenges to religious displays on public property. Many of the bill’s supporters claimed that groups, such as Americans United, were on a campaign literally to remove crosses from cemeteries nationwide.

Lynn said that charge was scaremongering at its worst.

“There is no such campaign,” said Lynn. “In reality this bill is a broad attempt to stop all kinds of challenges to government-sponsored religious activities. If enacted, it would bar recovery of legal fees and related expenses in an array of conflicts ranging from forcing children to recite prayers in schools to taxpayer funding of religious education.”

Lynn said Americans United would continue its opposition to the bill, urging the Senate to scrap the measure.

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.

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.