An Indiana congressman plans to curb the ACLU’s appetite for filing suits targeting religion in the public square by introducing a bill that denies plaintiff attorneys the right to collect attorneys fees in such cases.
Rep. John Hostettler, R-Ind., is expected to file his measure next week to amend the Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. Section 1988, to prohibit prevailing parties from being awarded attorneys fee in religious establishment cases, but not in other civil rights filings.
“Every other civil right case, there is some injury to somebody,” American Legion attorney Rees Lloyd of Banning, California, told a Thursday rally in front of ACLU’s Los Angeles offices. “Somebody lost their job … somebody got beat up by authorities – they have some physical, mental, economic injury. But in an Establishment Clause case, it is someone who says, ‘I take offense,’ and the offense is based on religions, politics, philosophy, but there is no injury.”
Hostettler introduced a bill with identical language in 2003 to permit only injunctive relief in cases filed under the religious-establishment clause of the Constitution and to deny attorneys fees. Although that bill failed in subcommittee, Lloyd is optimistic that the current offering will pass this session because of the more conservative makeup of the current Congress and escalating calls to curb an activist judiciary, particularly on religious matters.
“The issue is about the absolute fanaticism of the ACLU and the absolute arrogance of a judiciary that says we have to wipe out of history all the evidence of our heritage,” Lloyd told the Los Angeles Daily Journal, a legal newspaper.
Lloyd is a former ACLU attorney who has represented Southern California veterans seeking to save the Mojave Desert World War I Veterans Memorial. A federal judge has ruled it’s solitary cross an offense to the constitutional separation of church and state and ordered it destroyed.
The American Legion brought its protest to Los Angeles because of the county’s decision to remove the cross from its seal. Veterans fear the ACLU will attempt to have religious symbols removed from veterans’ monuments and gravestones in military graveyards.
“We’re joining forces with the ‘save the Los Angeles County seal campaign,'” Lloyd said. “It’s the same issue.”
Carol Sobel, a National Lawyers Guild attorney, defended the present system of awarding attorneys fees: “What the legislation is saying is, ‘If you enforce the Constitution in a way that [Hostettler] does not approve, you should not receive attorney fees for doing so.”
Sobel, the ACLU’s separation of church and state staff attorney when the position was first funded, continued, “We have defended religious freedom innumerable times, but when a city or a county puts a religious emblem on its city seal, it is violating this country’s principles of religious freedom. And, it sends a disquieting message that the government favors one religion.”
As reported by WorldNetDaily, various citizen and legal groups are lobbying to limit standing to bring establishment cases as well as deny attorneys fees.