The leader of the nation’s largest wartime veterans’ organization today applauded Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan) for reintroducing the Veterans’ Memorials, Boy Scouts, Public Seals and Other Expressions of Religion Protection Act of 2007 (S. 415) in the U.S. Senate, a measure that would stop the award of taxpayer dollars in legal fees to groups filing lawsuits against veterans’ memorials and public displays of religion.
“Legal attacks against veterans’ memorials that display religious symbols must not be rewarded by judges reaching into taxpayer pockets to enlarge the coffers of organizations such as the ACLU to encourage more lawsuits against our traditions and memorials,” said American Legion National Commander Paul A. Morin.
The Veterans’ Memorials, Boy Scouts, Public Seals and Other Expressions of Religion Protection Act of 2007 would amend U.S. statutes to eliminate the chilling effect on the constitutionally protected expression of religion by state and local officials that results from the threat that potential litigants may seek damages and attorney’s fees. A similar measure passed overwhelmingly in the House last year but the Senate version was not brought up for a vote prior to the adjournment of the 109th Congress.
Most Americans are unaware that activist groups, such as the ACLU, recover hundreds of thousands of dollars from state and local governments each year based on a provision of the 1976 Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Awards Act, which was intended to assist underprivileged plaintiffs in obtaining legal representation in civil rights cases.
Some of these cases include lawsuits against veterans’ memorials, the Boy Scouts of America, the public display of the Ten Commandments and other symbols of America’s religious heritage. Last year in a testimony to the Senate, Rees Lloyd, former ACLU attorney and Department of California District 21 Commander, provided these examples of ACLU awards of taxpayer money: Approximately $950,000 in attorney’s fees was awarded to the ACLU in a settlement with the City of San Diego in its lawsuit to drive the Boy Scouts out of Balboa Park.
In the Judge Roy Moore Ten Commandments case, the ACLU received $500,000. In a recent “Intelligent Design” case against a school board, the ACLU received $2,000,000 in attorney’s fees by order of a judge–although the law firm that represented the ACLU informed the court and public that it had acted pro bono and waived any attorney’s fees; these fees were pure profit to the ACLU.
“If the ACLU feels it has to bring lawsuits that most Americans abhor, it should at least have the decency not to assess these to the taxpayers to make a profit,” Morin said.
“It is not fair for taxpayers to pay the legal bills for groups like the ACLU,” said Brownback. “Currently many towns comply with the demands of the ACLU rather than risk going to trial and paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to the ACLU if they lose the case.
Brownback is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and is the ranking member on the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights.
“The American Legion will do everything in its power to educate the public about this abusive practice and why this law must be passed,” Morin said.
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