As the elections draw near, leaders in the House of Representatives have scheduled a vote TOMORROW on the so-called “Public Expression of Religion Act” (PERA) in an attempt to draw disillusioned base voters to the polls in November.
In fact, this legislation would close the courthouse doors to many Americans seeking justice when the government violates their rights, and undermine core protections for religious freedom enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution.
Under this harmful legislation, people who successfully prove the government has violated their constitutional rights under the Establishment clause of the First Amendment would be required to pay their own legal fees, which can run hundreds of thousands of dollars. Citizens should not be required bear this cost when courts find that the government has violated their rights and engaged in unconstitutional actions.
Essentially, barring the recovery of attorneys' fees would prevent attorneys from taking these cases, due to the tremendous cost involved. In many cases, religious minorities would be unable to obtain legal representation to defend themselves when the government has violated their religious freedom. The bill would apply even to cases involving religious coercion in public schools or blatant discrimination against particular religions.
Almost 150 years ago, Congress enacted The Civil Rights Act of 1871 to make it possible for ordinary citizens to protect their constitutional rights from government actions, and in 1976 Congress passed the Civil Rights Attorney’s Fee Award Act, which ensured that even victims with the smallest of means could protect their constitutional rights. Those two key statutes have been used for decades to successfully protect the rights of countless Americans on issues ranging from free speech to the right to vote. This critical protection could be compromised if PERA passes.
Tell your members of Congress to oppose this unconstitutional law!