The House passed the Public Expression of Religion Act (H.R. 2679) yesterday on a party-line vote that the ACLU's legislative director called "election-year red meat for the Christian right."
The Act, which has little chance of becoming law, would "prevent plaintiffs from recovering legal costs in any lawsuit based on the Establishment Clause," The Washington Post reported. Essentially, it prohibits judges from ordering defendants to pay the legal fees of organizations that successfully challenge unconstitutional government displays of religion.
The Religious Right supports the measure because it would make life more difficult for watchdogs who hope to prevent government establishments of religion. Many of these organizations and public interest law firms operate on shoe-string budgets. If they cannot recoup the costs required by legal battles, they will be unable to fight unconstitutional displays of religion. Fewer watchdogs means more violations of the Establishment Clause can slip through the cracks.
The proposal once again reveals that conservative legislators are all too willing to sacrifice judicial independence in the pursuit of garnering government support for religion.