Public Expression of Religion Act of 2005
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The Public Expression of Religion Act of 2005 (PERA) (H.R. 2679) was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.). The purpose of this bill was to remove the existing requirement that the federal government repay the legal fees of the plaintiff if it loses a case relating to First Amendment Establishment Clause rights.
H.R. 2679, originally introduced on May 26, 2005 by Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.), aimed to make it more difficult to sue state and local governments for alleged constitutional violations of the First Amendment Establishment Clause by removing the requirement that the government repay the plaintiff's legal fees if it loses the case.
On September 26, 2006, the House passed an amended version of the bill called the Veterans' Memorials, Boy Scouts, Public Seals, and Other Public Expressions of Religion Protection Act of 2006 in a vote of 244-173.
May 3, 2007
The vote, though not entirely divided along party lines, was preceded by intense partisan debate on the floor. A group of Democrats, including Reps. Thomas Edwards (D-Texas), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) all spoke out in opposition to the bill. Rep. Thomas Edwards (D-Texas) stated:
There is no greater principle in American democracy than religious freedom. It is the first freedom upon which all other freedoms are built. If one thinks government involvement in religion protects religious freedom, then I would suggest you vote for this ill-advised and dangerous piece of legislation. If one agrees with our Founding Fathers, with the Bill of Rights, the first 16 words thereof, with Mr. Madison and Mr. Jefferson, that the greatest threat to religious freedom in this world is government intrusion into religion, I would suggest you vote "no" on this legislation. This legislation is a direct effort to make it more difficult to enforce the Bill of Rights, and that is wrong. That is why we should vote "no."
House Republicans, led by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), spoke in support of the bill, citing the ACLU's legal action relating to violations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as examples of abuse that this bill could curb. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) was joined by the bill's sponsor, Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.), as well as Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.), Mike Pence (R-Ind.), and Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.) in speaking for the bill. Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) voiced her support, stating:
I rise today in very strong support of H.R. 2679, the Public Expression of Religion Protection Act. With this bill, we will close a loophole that has allowed liberal groups like the ACLU to prey on taxpayers for far too long. Originally, Congress sought to protect underprivileged civil rights applicants by allowing them to collect attorneys fees if they won their suit. Today, groups like ACLU scour the country looking to sue cities and States with any kind of religious display, regardless of how popular those religious displays are in those communities. If they sue and win, States and localities not only have to remove or remodel the historic items, but they also must pay the group's attorneys fees. In this backdoor way, the ACLU can collect taxpayer money to fuel even more lawsuits.
Articles and resources
Related SourceWatch Resources
- "'Silly Season' In The House: Hostettler Bill Seeks To Limit Church-State Lawsuits," The Wall of Separation Blog, June 22, 2006.
- Dave Baron, "House Subcommittee Takes Up Public Expression of Religion," Faith in Public Life, June 23, 2006.
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