Pelavin: I am disheartened that just weeks before the midterm elections the House of Representatives has taken unprecedented action weakening our fundamental rights.
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Washington, DC, September 27, 2006 – In response to today’s House passage of the so-called “Veterans’ Memorials, Boy Scouts, Public Seals, and Other Public Expression of Religion Protection Act”, which would handicap those seeking to vindicate their rights under the Establishment Clause by denying them access to attorney’s fees, Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
I am disheartened that just weeks before the midterm elections the House of Representatives has taken unprecedented action weakening our fundamental rights by passing the “Veterans’ Memorials, Boy Scouts, Public Seals, and Other Public Expression of Religion Protection Act.” The bills’ name alone should convey its preposterous nature. The bill would single out for the first time one type of constitutional protection from effective enforcement by removing plaintiffs’ ability to recover legal fees and out-of-pocket expenses in cases brought under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
This legislation, attacking the civil liberties and religious freedoms of all American, is first an alarming denigration of our commitment to the equality of all Americans. It tramples on the very freedoms so cherished and celebrated by our founding fathers. There are almost no financial damages in most Establishment Clause cases, making the intent of this legislation clear: to cut off access to the courts to those plaintiffs who prevail in court for whom attorneys fees and court cases are necessary to make a lawsuit financially feasible. Second, it is an assault by the legislative branch on the jurisdiction of the court. Third, it may spell the start of a full scale assault on fundamental freedoms. Removing certain constitutional rights from the full protection of the law is a slippery slope threatening the protection of all rights. Today, the establishment clause is under attack. Tomorrow’s legislation could limit the awarding of fees in cases pertaining to other civil rights and civil liberties claims. Constitutional rights are not items on a buffet that the legislature can pick and choose among. This is why such an array of civil right and civil liberties organizations have joined together in vigorously opposing this legislation.
We call on the Senate to reject this deplorable legislation and, in doing so, maintain a commitment to our Constitution and to Americans of all religious faiths and of none.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the
Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis.