Saturday, September 30, 2006

Bye-bye, First Amendment

Erwin Chemerinsky writes in Saturday's Washington Post about a bill that passed the House of Representatives this week, almost unnoticed beneath the controversy over detainee rights. HR 2679, the Public Expression of Religion Act, amends 42 USC 1988, an obscure provision from the 1970's that allows plaintiffs to be reimbursed for their legal fees if they prove that the government violated their Constitutional rights. The new act, if passed by the Senate and signed by the President, would prohibit the awarding of legal fees if the case was brought on the basis of a violation of the First Amendment's "establishment clause": Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

The rights specified in the Constitution have no meaning if they are unenforceable, and how many of us have the financial resources to pursue a lawsuit with no hope of recovering our legal costs? Don't misunderstand this provision: if your claim is dismissed, you don't get legal fees anyway. This bill, if it becomes law, would mean that even if you have a valid claim that the government violated your rights, you have to pay all the legal costs yourself.

Chemerinsky is right: the only possible purpose of this law is to make it possible for governments to violate the Establishment Clause with impunity, knowing that few people have the ability to absorb the cost of defending the Constitution in court. This shameful bill must be obliterated by the Senate or struck down by the courts, because this treasonous direct attack on the Constitution must not stand. HR 2679 is the cornerstone of a new theocracy in which only the majority's religious views will be honored.

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