Blurring the Church-State Line

With little public attention or even notice, the House of Representatives has passed a bill that undermines enforcement of the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. The Public Expression of Religion Act – H.R. 2679 – provides that attorneys who successfully challenge government actions as violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment shall not be entitled to recover attorneys fees. The bill has only one purpose: to prevent suits challenging unconstitutional government actions advancing religion.

Read it all. Scary stuff.


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30 comments for “Blurring the Church-State Line

  1. R. Mildred
    September 30, 2006 at 5:31 pm

    I claim dibs on the capitol building as the official mega temple for the irreligious faith!

    Urinologists can have the oval office as a public place of worship – and ronald reagan’s grave site.

  2. zuzu
    September 30, 2006 at 5:45 pm

    I saw this one coming, though I didn’t have time to write on it.

    As if I wasn’t already shaking and vomiting over the torture vote.

  3. Kristina
    September 30, 2006 at 6:47 pm

    Hm. Maybe. However, Congress just recessed and won’t be returning until after the elections. And, hoo, buddy, did they leave a lot of work unfinished for the lame duck session. They only passed 2 of the 14 spending bills needed to keep the government running, and the other 12 must be passed before the 127th Congress convenes. This bill may have been more of a desperate plea for re-election (Congressional approval being at 20-some percent and all). Thanks for the heads up, though. I’ll be watching the lame duck session more carefully, though I think the Senate might not have time for this one.

  4. September 30, 2006 at 8:27 pm

    What zuzu said.

    Yeah, I hope you’re right, Kristina.

    i can just see them trying to trot this shit out again around the “War On Christmas” bullshit, though.

  5. kate
    September 30, 2006 at 9:03 pm

    Its a house bill and we can only hope that it dies in the senate. Yes and I was thinking as was zuzu, not just after the torture vote.

    We are going down the stink hole but fast now. My kids may see the day when liberals and all are required to wear arm badges and have to guard what they say against the church/state, lest they be arrested without charge, tortured and detained for life.

    We’re getting closer everday.

  6. September 30, 2006 at 9:30 pm

    Well, I tell you what, if we want out of this we have to do something radically different, because this shit? Is not working.

    and no, i don’t have any brilliant ideas at the moment.

    but i’m open.

  7. williamx
    September 30, 2006 at 10:43 pm

    It definitely seems like an appeal to “The Base.”
    The base, vile christofascist minority that has somehow subverted and completely perverted and polluted what it means to believe in the american ideal. It’s sickening and totally disheartening. I am starting to think that this whole american experiment that had some potential is just done now, and it’s time to make sure you have a weapon or three in the house so when the jackboots start kicking down the door you don’t go down alone.

  8. steve
    October 1, 2006 at 7:45 am

    I think this bill is not as bad as you may think.
    Who brings these lawsuits? ACLU, Atheist organizations, in short well funded groups.

    Why should my tax dollars go to reimbursing already well funded Paid Up Front legal expenses. And a side note being unarmed in any day or political climate is just dumb. I distrust not only all and any government but also large well funded orginizations. They are one in the same.

  9. Gordon K
    October 1, 2006 at 8:48 am

    Why should your money go to do that? One, because it’s incentive to the government not to fuck up in the first place. Two, because the ACLU is actually not a bottomless pit of money. Three, because civil rights belong to everybody, or they are guaranteed to nobody – you shouldn’t have to belong to a popular or well-supported cause in order to have your interests represented competently.

  10. Arianna
    October 1, 2006 at 9:15 am

    Up here in Canada, the Conservatives have just de-funded our courts challenges program, which was used to fund lawsuits challenging federal laws on equality and language-rights basis.

    We have a $13 billion surplus, and they’re just slashing blindly at anything that will please their base. Museum funding, Status of Women, Courts Challenges…

  11. Arianna
    October 1, 2006 at 9:20 am

    Oh, and they also pretty much gutted any Climate Change initiatives we had going, and removed the $4 million of funding for medicinal marajuana research.

  12. October 1, 2006 at 10:31 am

    Didn’t they just cut federal literacy program(me)s too, Arianna? I think that was on The National the other night, which is funny, b/c CBC had run a lot of coverage about the problems with adult illiteracy in Canada and how no one takes it seriously.

    Sounds like you got a winner in ol’ Stevie Harper.

    Gordon: You’re right with the disincentive point, I do believe. It makes sense that evangelicals would find removing such disincentive to be an important step in protecting our freedoms.

  13. October 1, 2006 at 10:34 am

    Awaiting moderation? Is that standard practice now, or am I on a watch-list?

    Aside from your guideline to not post while drunk or emotional, and perhaps making my tone clear (to others, which is implicit), I’m unaware of any rulebreaking…

  14. Arianna
    October 1, 2006 at 10:42 am

    Chuck, afaik all comments have been moderated for a really long time. At least, all my comments I’ve ever made, ever, have been.

  15. October 1, 2006 at 10:48 am

    Arianna’s right — comments go into moderation randomly all the time. My comments get moderated about half the time. It’s nothing personal, I promise!

  16. zuzu
    October 1, 2006 at 10:52 am

    Why should my tax dollars go to reimbursing already well funded Paid Up Front legal expenses.

    I realize that you’re not asking this question in good faith, but I’m going to try to answer it as if you had. First, as Gordon said, the ACLU is not a bottomless pit of money, and litigation is tremendously expensive. Second, the whole idea behind fee-shifting statutes is that an individual who wishes to challenge the government, with its disproportionate resources, should not have to bear the burden of challenging government abuses of power — IOW, the government should not be able to benefit from its abuse because most individuals do not have the resources to take on the government. Third, while the ACLU often joins cases like this, individuals will often make these challenges with their own attorneys, who need to be paid somehow.

    Finally, you scoff at who’s bringing these cases. Allow me to give you an example of a case in Delaware involving an individual family who is being targeted by some powerful groups (i.e., the Traditional Values Coalition) because they brought an Establishment Clause case:

    “I’m for religion in schools,” he said with thoughtful conviction. “That is the way I was raised. Keep it in.”

    Many people in Hitchens’ community appear to agree, rallying behind the local school district accused in a federal lawsuit of violating a Jewish family’s right to be free from state-sponsored religion, in this case, Christianity.

    Hitchens, like others in the Indian River School District, believes the central issue is not the Jewish family’s right to be free from Christian prayers. They believe it is about the right of Christian students to pray where and when they want.

    The Dobrich family, who filed the lawsuit against the Indian River School District in February in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, could ignore the prayers, said Donna DeForest, 62, of Millsboro.

    But the lawsuit brought by Mona and Marco Dobrich on behalf of their children, and a second unnamed family, said prayer at school board meetings, athletic events, banquets and graduation ceremonies has created “an environment of religious exclusion.”

    The lawsuit accuses the district of promoting Christianity in the classroom. It claims that students who participate in the Bible club at Selbyville Middle School receive preferential treatment, and at least two teachers espoused their religious beliefs in class.

    Dobrich brought her concerns to the school board last year – which then adopted new policies. But the lawsuit said the policies have not been enforced and have not been available to parents who have asked for copies. Because she spoke up, Dobrich said, her family was persecuted and sometimes threatened. “Everything changed,” she said. Friends were suddenly cold to her and her family, sometimes refusing to make eye contact in public.

    At least one person who supports Dobrich, Dr. Jeff Hawtof, considered retracting his comments, saying that once Dobrich spoke publicly, she committed “social suicide.”

    Hawtof knew others who supported Dobrich and her lawsuit but have refused to come forward, fearing that it would alienate them and, potentially, their livelihoods.

    The Dobriches had to leave their home because of the threats and harassment.

    Finally, even though the ACLU took their case pro bono, they can do that, and not deplete their funding, because of the fee-shifting statute.

    Oh, and the ACLU sometimes takes cases defending school boards and governments, and they certainly have defended Christians.

  17. zuzu
    October 1, 2006 at 10:59 am

    Chuck, our list of trigger words for the spam filter is long and contains many common words used by spammers.

    So it’s quite common for posts to get held in moderation. Keep your shorts on.

  18. October 1, 2006 at 11:54 am

    Arianna, it’s quite terrible. And all but unbelievable. ‘Hey, we have a surplus! Loads of money! Let’s cut social programs to save even more money!’

    But the crappy opposition parties aren’t doing anything. If they banded together, they could stop most of this, but they don’t.

  19. October 1, 2006 at 12:00 pm

    hehehe Thanks zuzu. I was just concerned, that’s all. Especially if you’re interesting in blocking spambots, have you considered a captcha test (the one where you enter the numbers or whatever shown in a graphic)? I don’t know how exactly that’d work in WordPress, but it’s probably not too hard to implement.

    Online poker! Online poker! cia1is!

  20. Hestia
    October 1, 2006 at 12:04 pm

    Are there any other laws like this that affect other kinds of court cases? Because if they’re just singling out religious ones, then steve’s got even less of a point.

  21. zuzu
    October 1, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    Hestia, this bill revokes fee-shifting only in Establishment Clause cases. So, yes, it is singling out challenges like that of the Dobriches’.

  22. libdevil
    October 1, 2006 at 2:08 pm

    Our entire continent is being run by evil, evil men. Bush, Harper, and Fox – a trio of wanna-be tyrrants. And at least two of them are getting far too close to getting their wish.

  23. R. Mildred
    October 1, 2006 at 2:19 pm

    Hestia, this bill revokes fee-shifting only in Establishment Clause cases.

    So for those christo-crites that means that if you’re catholic you and your religion can now be banned from schools, or if you’re the wrong sort of protestant and anyone else who isn’t a member of the southern baptist papacy/moonitarian church (delete as appropriate depending on which way the state denomination gets decided).

    Remember Niemoller dipwads: Who will stand up for you when the Homeland Security Guards come for your group?

    Not the ACLU that’s who won’t.

  24. Gordon K
    October 1, 2006 at 3:43 pm

    Especially if you’re interesting in blocking spambots, have you considered a captcha test (the one where you enter the numbers or whatever shown in a graphic)?

    Captchas are tricky to do right (read: make accessible) and they tend to be ineffective.

  25. KnifeGhost
    October 1, 2006 at 5:33 pm

    But the crappy opposition parties aren’t doing anything. If they banded together, they could stop most of this, but they don’t.

    The Liberals are biding their time. They’re in the middle of a leadership race. It would be politically insane to take the fight to the Conservative in the middle of a leadership race — especially when it’s important that the new leaer look like a clean break from the Cretien/Martin crowd. New leader shows up in a few months, shows up in Parliament ready for a fight, is heralded as a breath of fresh air and a new hope for Canadian politics, wins the next election.

    And the NDP can’t do shit without the Liberals.

  26. zuzu
    October 1, 2006 at 5:55 pm

    So for those christo-crites that means that if you’re catholic you and your religion can now be banned from schools, or if you’re the wrong sort of protestant and anyone else who isn’t a member of the southern baptist papacy/moonitarian church (delete as appropriate depending on which way the state denomination gets decided).

    Pretty much. But try to get them to understand that. The Catholics especially mystify me, with their willingness to overlook the fact that the evangelicals don’t consider them Christians.

  27. Arianna
    October 1, 2006 at 6:12 pm

    Oh God am I getting desperate for the Liberals to get their shit together. The NDP have been disapointing me a bit lately, and I’m sick of the Bloc selling out their usual positions for money to Quebec.

    What happens next all depends on who gets the Liberal leadership of course. I’m kinda hoping for Bob Rae, regardless of being from Ontario :P

  28. October 1, 2006 at 8:55 pm

    Apparently Australia’s been having happy fun times wrt the habeas corpus business as well.

    Goddam. Are we all just under some kind of karmic crap, or WHAT? i mean, i’m sure that in a largescale universal sort of way, we collectively have it coming eight ways to Christmas; fuck, how many people in the world eating grass to survive, living in gulags?

    And yet: I don’t WANNA live in the Handmaid’s Tale, Maw!

    or a banana republic either.

    goddam right now sucks ass.

  29. kj
    October 4, 2006 at 10:10 am

    Check how your rep voted

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