VETERANS' MEMORIALS, BOY SCOUTS, PUBLIC SEALS, AND OTHER PUBLIC EXPRESSIONS OF RELIGION PROTECTION ACT OF 2006 -- (Extensions of Remarks - September 28, 2006)
* Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, I think this bill is unnecessary and unwise, and I cannot vote for it.
* Current law says that federal judges have discretion to require a state or local government to pay the attorneys' fees of individual citizens who win lawsuits challenging government actions that violate the Constitution.
* This bill would take away part of that discretion, by barring judges from making such awards in cases involving the Constitution's prohibition of the establishment of religion.
* Nothing in today's debate on the bill has convinced me that that so many judges have abused their discretion that Congress should limit it, or that the current law is broken and requires repair.
* And I am very concerned that the effect of this bill would be to weaken Americans' constitutional rights, as the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty has warned in a recent letter that says ``passage of H.R. 2679 would encourage elected officials to violate the Establishment Clause whenever they find it politically advantageous to do so. By limiting the remedies for a successful plaintiff, this measure would remove the threat that exists to ensure compliance with the Establishment Clause.''
* I think the Joint Committee is right--and that what they say about the Establishment Clause is just as true about the rest of the Bill of Rights.
* For example of where this might lead, consider the 2003 lawsuit against the school district in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
* In that case, the plaintiffs complained that a former student's right to free speech was abridged when school officials denied the student an opportunity to give her opinion of homosexuality at a school forum on diversity. The judge ruled they were right, and ordered the school district to pay damages, attorneys' fees and costs to the Thomas More Law Center, an Ann Arbor-based law firm organized to argue on behalf of Christians in religious freedom cases.
* I have no reason to think that was an abuse. I am glad that the law provides judges with the discretion to award attorneys' fees when people successfully defend their constitutional rights. This bill would limit that discretion unnecessarily, and so I cannot support it.