The American Legion, with 2.7-million members the largest veterans organization in the world, has launched a nationwide grass-roots campaign to support a bill in Congress that would stop the ACLU from receiving taxpayer-paid attorney fees in the many religious-establishment cases against the Boy Scouts, the public display of the Ten Commandments and other symbols of America’s religious history and heritage.
The Public Expression of Religion Act, or PERA, would amend the Civil Rights Attorney Fees Act to withdraw the authority of courts to award attorney fees, or damages, to the American Civil Liberties Union, or anyone else, in lawsuits brought under the Establishment of Religion clause in the First Amendment.
Generally unknown to the public, the ACLU has received enormous attorney fee awards from judges in Establishment Clause cases.
The American Legion argues that not a single judge, as far as is known, has exercised the court’s discretion to deny the ACLU’s motions for attorney fees – usually at $350 an hour – to be paid by taxpayers.
This has been done in spite of the fact that the ACLU has incurred no actual attorney expenses, because its lawsuits are handled by staff or volunteer lawyers.
The Legion says the ACLU has used the threat of attorney fees to intimidate cities, counties, school boards and other locally elected bodies into surrendering to its demands to remove religion from the public square.
The ACLU recently has engaged in many lawsuits against the Boy Scouts’ usage of public property, arguing the organization is religious because its Scout Oath includes a pledge of duty to God.
The American Legion, whose creed has been “For God And Country” since its founding by GIs during World War I, stepped up its campaign of support for the congressional bill with the release of “In The Footsteps Of The Founders – A Guide To Defending American Values ” at its conference last week in the nation’s capitol.
Legionnaires distributed copies of the guide, available by request at this e-mail address to every member of the House and Senate during the conference. Members reported that many legislators expressed surprise at the size of attorney fees sought and gained by the ACLU and indicated support for the bill.
“There simply is no reasonable basis to support the profiteering in attorney fee awards ordered by judges in these cases,” the Legion’s grass-roots guide states. “The very threat of such fees has made elected bodies, large and small, surrender to the ACLU’s demands to secularly cleanse the public square.”
American Legion National Commander Thomas Bock vowed the Legion “will stand with the Boy Scouts all the way to the Supreme Court, as long as it takes, and whatever it takes.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep, John Hostettler, R-Ind., said PERA is “gaining recognition as an important piece of legislation both among members of Congress and constituents.”
“It is encouraging that the American Legion has voiced strong support for this legislation and it is critical that we pass PERA in the 109th Congress so that freedom of religious expression under the First Amendment can be restored and protected,” he said.
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