Judicial Watch • Ending Costly Religious Expression

Ending Costly Religious Expression

Ending Costly Religious Expression

SEPTEMBER 27, 2006

The scare tactic that liberal groups have for years used to intimidate cities nationwide into removing religious displays before even going to court is one big step closer to extinction.

Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have bullied numerous municipalities into removing the displays – such as crosses and Ten Commandments statues–from public property with threats of costly lawsuits that scare officials into complying in order to avoid costly litigation. The figures can be astronomical since courts usually reimburse the so-called civil rights groups for their high attorney’s fees in addition to damages.

This week the House of Representatives passed the Public Expression of Religion Act which will prevent federal courts from requiring government entities to reimburse the legal costs of the individual or group that sued the government agency involving the First Amendment’s establishment clause. The clause says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The battles have cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years since federal judges routinely require the government agency, whether it is a city or county, to pay the legal expenses of a plaintiff who successfully asserts an establishment clause violation. This has intimidated many officials into complying with requests before ever reaching a courthouse to fight it. Recent cases involve crosses at veterans’ cemeteries, Christmas nativity scenes and Ten Commandments displays in government buildings.

Another high-profile example involves the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors who were threatened with a $1 million legal bill by the ACLU if they didn’t remove a tiny cross in the county seal. Although the cross was a fixture in the county seal for decades, reluctant supervisors complied when faced with the legal fees.

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