An attorney who once worked for the American Civil Liberties Union has slammed the organization for “perverting” federal law by successfully threatening government officials into getting rid of public expressions of religion.
Rees Lloyd made the comments in an online podcast hosted by Rep. John Hostettler, R-Ind., in which the two discuss the congressman’s legislation, the Public Expression of Religion Act, or PERA (H.R.2679). The bill would prohibit judges in civil suits involving the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause from awarding attorney’s fees to those offended by religious symbols or actions in the public square – such as a Ten Commandments display in a courthouse or a cross on a county seal.
Lloyd, a California civil-rights attorney, is an officer with the American Legion who wrote a resolution passed by the national organization supporting Hostettler’s bill.
As WorldNetDaily reported, Hostettler’s proposal would amend the Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. Section 1988, to prohibit prevailing parties from being awarded attorney’s fee in religious establishment cases, but not in other civil rights filings. This would prevent local governments from having to use taxpayer funds to pay the ACLU or similar organization when a case is lost, and also would protect elected officials from having to pay fees from their own pockets.
In the podcast, Hostettler explains that the 1976 statute was meant to help “the little guy” who is going up against a governmental entity so he won’t be impoverished when working to guarantee the liberty to express or practice his faith. But, says the lawmaker, the ACLU has used the law to enrich itself at the expense of taxpayers and as a means to silence public officials who don’t want to be sued personally.
Hostettler says some organizations have created a new civil liberty – a right to be protected “from religion, which is found nowhere in the Constitution, nowhere in the Bill of Rights.” The Indiana congressman blames “a very select group” for “perverting” the original statute, including the ACLU, People for the American Way and Americans United for the Separate of Church and State.
“They use this statute to extort behavior out of individuals,” the congressman said, citing the Indiana Civil Liberties Union threatening local educators. The group sent a letter to officials saying they would be sued and be forced to pay attorney’s fees should any graduation prayers be offered at commencement ceremonies. The threat sent the message, Hostettler said, that individuals tied to school districts could be impoverished personally.
Said the lawmaker: “When officials see the potential threat of a lawsuit, they stop allowing children to write papers for English class – when they’re asked to write about the most important person in their life and they decide to write about Jesus Christ.”
Hostettler’s bill would allow cases to move through the courts without public officials worrying about being held personally liable for thousands in attorneys fees.
“Let’s let these cases go forward; let’s let the courts decide what’s constitutional and what’s not, and let’s not leave it up to the ACLU,” he said.
Hostettler explained that while government entities can pay attorney’s fees charged to individual elected officials, they don’t legally have to, which puts the politicians on the hook.
Saying most taxpayers are in favor of allowing public religious expression, the congressman noted the irony of those same taxpayers being forced to pay the ACLU to sue their local governments.
“The current threat to public officials is very real; it’s ongoing,” Hostettler stated. “It’s been the case for several years that public officials are scared to death to suggest any type of public recognition of our Christian roots. It’s a problem that needs to be addressed in Washington, D.C.”
PERA would prohibit damages, court fees and attorney’s fees from going to plaintiffs in establishment-clause suits while keeping the original purpose of the civil-rights law, Hstettler says, to provide a means for those whose religious liberties have been blocked to find justice.
The congressman wonders why the ACLU would oppose his legislation since it still provides for “injunctive relief” – e.g., a court can rule in the ACLU’s favor and force the removal of a Ten Commandments display – but takes out the monetary incentive for lawsuits.
“If they’re not out for the money but are really out to preserve our civil liberties … then the ACLU should not be opposing my bill,” Hostettler commented.
Hostettler mentioned the case of Judge Roy Moore in Alabama, whose colleagues on the state Supreme Court ordered the removal of a Ten Commandments display because, the congressman says, they didn’t want the state’s taxpayers to have to pay anymore than they did – $500,000 – to the ACLU as a result of the case.
In the podcast, Lloyd decried the “terrorizing litigation tactics of the ACLU.”
Said Lloyd: “Not only can the ACLU brings these suits and compel taxpayers to pay them to destroy the public display of our American history and heritage, but so can Islamist terrorists or Islamist sympathizers in our midst.
“All they have to do is walk into court, make their claim that they’re offended by the sight of a cross or other religious symbol, and they’re going to win the case because judges follow one another under stare decisis,” or deference to precedent.
The judges would then order that fees be paid to the Islamists, Lloyd contends.
Lloyd said this issue came into focus for him when he witnessed the fight in San Diego, Calif., over a cross on a veterans’ memorial on public land in the Mohave Desert.
“For me, that was the one step taken too far,” Lloyd said. “Now, for the first time, the ACLU was attacking the very veterans who secured their freedom.”
A civil-rights activist since the ’60s, Lloyd worked with the ACLU in the ’70s and was “very supportive” of the 1976 Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Act because it was a “noble attempt to assure that people who had legitimate civil-rights violations and injuries could secure legal representation.”
Stated Lloyd: “The ACLU has perverted, distorted and exploited the Civil Rights Act … to turn it into a lawyer-enrichment act.”
Lloyd says the American people are “oblivious” to how many millions of dollars in taxpayer funds are going to the ACLU each year.
The attorney pointed out many attorneys in cases brought by the ACLU are volunteers, so the fees the group is awarded normally do not go to reimburse an attorney but rather directly into the organization’s coffers.
Lloyd also mentioned the case in Los Angeles County, where threat of litigation caused the Board of Supervisors to have the county’s seal redesigned to eliminate a tiny cross.
“They would have fought the ACLU but for one reason: the threat of attorney’s fees,” Lloyd said.
As WorldNetDaily reported, in October the Center for Reclaiming America announced it had 100,000 signatures on a petition in support of PERA. Since then, another 60,000 have been collected.
Hostettler’s bill, which was introduced first in 2003 without success, currently has 35 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and sits in the House Committee on the Judiciary.
Stated Hostettler: “If we’re successful in Washington, D.C., it will be because the American people have had enough. … This is a war worth fighting.”
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