Saturday, February 03, 2007

Reintroduction of PERA in 110th Congress

The leader of the American Legion recently applauded Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan) for reintroducing in the U.S. Senate S. 415, a measure that would prevent plaintiffs who win lawsuits against violations of the no of the first amendment from receiving any monetary reimbursement or rewards. The American Legion National Commander Paul A. Morin vehemently objects to court decisions against government sponsorship of religiously biased displays and against government subsidies to the theist only membership organization. He characterizes such court decisions as "legal attacks against veterans' memorials that display religious symbols" and "lawsuits against our traditions". As he probably knows, and thus is dishonestly not acknowledging, the focus of non-establishment jurisprudence is limited to the subset of public displays that are government sponsored. Morin isn't alone in deliberately over-generalizing the legal issue to falsely make it sound like there is a bigoted legal assault by judges against all public display and practice of majority Christian compatible monotheistic religious traditions. You wouldn't know it listening to most elected Republican officials or right wing commentators, but most public displays and practices with religious content are not subject to any legal challenge because they are not government sponsored or subsidized.

The Veterans' Memorials, Boy Scouts, Public Seals and Other Expressions of Religion Protection Act of 2007 (PERA) would amend U.S. statutes to discourage lawsuits against establishments of religion by ensuring that plaintiffs who win such lawsuits cannot receive damages or attorney fee reimbursement. The winning plaintiffs in all other lawsuits would still qualify for reimbursement of expenses and damage rewards, thus creating a legal double standard. A similar measure that would weaken non-establishment protections for atheists, agnostics, polytheists, and other religious minorities passed overwhelmingly in the House last year but the Senate version was not brought up for a vote prior to the adjournment of the 109th Congress.

Non-establishment of religion is unpopular, it is probably the most unpopular clause of the first amendment. Many people support the no establishment clause only in the sense that they don't want a particular named Christian denomination to be declared a government favored or endorsed denomination. Such support for non-establishment is made easy by the large number of Christian denominations all of which are minorities. But these same people seem to think government favoring and endorsing a Christian compatible majoritarian monotheism is somehow necessary to uphold their free exercise rights. The logical implication that the lack of government sponsorship and endorsement of atheist and polytheist beliefs is likewise a denial of free exercise for atheists and polytheists never seems to occur these people. In fact, neither the government favored majority nor the excluded minority are being provided or denied free exercise rights by the government actions targeted by this misnamed "Public Expressions of Religion Protection Act". What is being denied here by what Morin refers to as "our traditions" are the basic equal protection and non-discrimination before the law principles for atheists, agnostics, polytheists, and some other religious minorities. Unfortunately, as with racism and sexism, it looks like this is going to be a drawn out conflict against an ignorant and bigoted majority supported legal tradition.

1 comment:

  1. It won't be long, hopefully within my lifetime, that people will begin to realize that using outdated, unproven dogam in ANY government action is NOT in the best interest of a free people.

    Nice post.