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More on PERA

Agape Press (no surprise) cheerleads for the establishment clause bill I mentioned in my last post.

(AgapePress) – The ACLU calls it an “attack on religious liberty.” But a prominent member from the other side of Congress says it’s the first step in drying up what some call the ACLU’s “cash cow.”

They are referring to the measure known as the Public Expression of Religion Act, or PERA (H.R. 2679), a bill sponsored by Congressman Jeff Hostettler that eliminates the award of attorney’s fees in Establishment Clause cases, effectively removing the financial threat often used by the American Civil Liberties Union against communities. “Because of PERA,” Hostettler states on his website, “Americans will have the opportunity to fight the systematic agenda of the ACLU and their minions to remove the vestiges of our religious heritage in this nation.”

But what about the financial aspect of the legislation? The ACLU says the elimination of attorney’s fees in Establishment Clause cases, for example, would — among other things — deter attorneys from taking cases that allege the government as acted unconstitutionally by applying “illegal religious coercion” in public schools or “blatant discrimination” against particular religions.

Hostettler, understandably, sees things differently. Under PERA, he says, public officials would not have to worry about being able to afford legal defense of their use of the words “under God” in public when the ACLU “comes after them” — and teachers would be able to permit students to “talk about their religious beliefs” knowing that should a lawsuit result, they would be able to defend themselves without facing “financial peril.”

Brownback says he is counting on the Senate to pass its version of the bill so communities will be able to demonstrate their faith without the specter of financial threat.

Of course, they don’t actually make an argument against what the ACLU says. Not a big surprise, as I imagine it’s perfectly obvious to them. As you can see from the statements in the excerpt, they see this as keeping the ACLU from inflicting financial damage on people who promote religion through government. They’re taking the negative consequences away from losing cases, which creates an incentive for people who lack an understanding of separation of church and state (or don’t believe in it in the first place) to push their agenda a bit more forcefully. On the flip side, it creates a disincentive for others to challenge any actions by people in such positions of power.

Now, that cuts both ways. It will be harder for everyone to sue and for either side to push an agenda with government backing. Why then does the religious right see this as a positive? It seems that requires a couple of assumptions about the state of separation of church and state. The first is that they have more funding than their opposition. Otherwise, the attorney’s fees restriction would hurt them more, as there would be fewer cases they could reach than for groups like the ACLU and AU. The second is that people who share their views are on balance more common in positions where pushing religion results in lawsuits. School boards and the like, mostly.

I think those assumptions are interesting. Don’t they contradict the claims of persecution made by many on the religious right? If you’re better funded and in better position to control the initial expressions of government sponsored religious views, how persecuted can you be?

In the end, this is essentially an entrenchment of the status quo regarding separation of church and state. Whichever side the current situation leans toward is the side that this bill favors. The religious right thinks government promotion of Christianity is that side. Are they right? I don’t think so, but we may find out rather quickly.

Categories: Church and State
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