Bass Ackwards

That is the best description of how the supporters of H.R. 2679 understand the First Amendment. Sponsored by, among others, our own Spencer Bachus, the purpose of the bill is [emphasis added]:

To amend the Revised Statutes of the United States to eliminate the chilling effect on the constitutionally protected expression of religion by State and local officials that results from the threat that potential litigants may seek damages and attorney’s fees. 

Federal law gives us the right to sue state officials who violate the constitution. Because the harm is serious – thumbing their noses at our essential law – but the damages are usually not monetary, congress long ago decided to provide for attorney’s fees in these types of case.

The proposed law would exempt cases where someone sues the state for violating the establishment clause. What that means is the plaintiff would have to foot the bill on their own, even if they win. It also means there would be no real penalty for the offending state officials. The result? Establishment clause immunity. (Read more criticism here, and here. Favorable views are here).

What I really want to point out, however, is the highlighted language. Read it again. Do you understand what these folks are proposing? That THE STATE has a right to the free expression of religion. 

Um, no. The Constitution gives the people the right to free expression. It limits government involvment in religion. You have the right to the free expression of religion, I have the right to the free expression of religion, state and local officials have the right to free expression of religion as individuals. But if the state itself has that right, then guess what? You and I do not. Is that what we want? To authorize the state of Alabama to declare an official religion? That’s what this language would allow.

Governments don’t have rights, they have power. On government’s power over religious beliefs, here is Thomas Jefferson:

our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God.

The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

The language about the bill’s purpose, of course, is not part of the law. But it says a lot about the people who support the bill.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Establishment Clause, National Politics, Religion

3 Comments on “Bass Ackwards”

  1. Dan Says:

    That’s the wackiest thing I’ve ever heard. Seems like they’re taking some advice from Roy Moore by confusing the individual’s religious freedoms with the office’s “religious freedoms.”

    This is simply the current chapter of the religio-facists attempts to get more and more power for their own theocratic ends. This latest strategy calls for the use those “un-Christian” civil liberties to work for them instead of against them. Roy Moore is probabaly the most public example — claiming he was personally denied religous freedom for not being allowed to use his office as Chief Justice to prosletize his religion.

  2. Don Says:

    “To amend the Revised Statutes of the United States to eliminate the chilling effect on the constitutionally protected expression of religion by State and local officials that results from the threat that potential litigants may seek damages and attorney’s fees.”

    When I read that I don’t see any thing in it that says, “That THE STATE has a right to the free expression of religion.”

    What it says as far as I’m concerned is that State officials and local officials are protected in their rights AS INDIVIDUALS to make expressions of religion.

  3. wheeler Says:

    don,

    if the bill applied to officials who act as individuals, then it serves no purpose. if they are truly acting as individuals, then they would win the suit, and hence not have to pay the other party’s fees.

    what this bill does is say that even when a court finds that the officials, as state officials, advanced a religion the plaintiff does not get to recover her attorneys fees.

    the result: the officials, as officials, get to advance their religion with impunity. i.e., the author’s think the state has the right to the free expression of religion.

  4. Don Says:

    I haven’t read the bill. All I read was what I quoted from your blog, and I stand by what I said. To me, and probably many others who only have a basic education without the disadvantage of studying the way lawyers can convolute words to seem to mean something other than what they actually mean, it says what I said it says.

    The bill may actually serve no purpose other than being political rhetoric, and there would be nothing new or different about that.


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