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House Action to Limit First Amendment Protections "Hostile to Religious Freedom"

New York, NY, September 27, 2006 … Calling the measure "hostile to religious freedom," the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today criticized approval by the House of Representatives of H.R. 2679, legislation that would make it more difficult and more costly to enforce the First Amendment's prohibition against government sponsorship of religion.

Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, issued the following statement:

This legislation is unnecessary and unwise.  The measure is hostile to religious freedom because it selectively and unfairly limits challenges to enforce the First Amendment's prohibition against government sponsorship of religion.

The House leadership is wrong to tout this bill as part of its "House Republican American Values Agenda."  Hostility to religious freedom has never been an American value.  To the contrary, the right to freedom of religion is so central to American democracy that it was enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, along with other fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

ADL has strongly opposed legislation that would deny federal courts jurisdiction to hear or decide any question pertaining to constitutional interpretation.  This legislation is comparable – and equally objectionable.  By limiting the remedies for a successful plaintiff, this measure would remove an essential legal tool that exists to help ensure government compliance with the Establishment Clause. It would effectively insulate serious constitutional violations from judicial review.

Beyond the church-state implications, we are concerned about the dangerous precedent of content-based restrictions on efforts to vindicate civil rights and civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution.  If the right to attorney's fees is taken away from plaintiffs who prove violations of the Establishment Clause, other fundamental rights may well be targeted in the future.

Religious expression is not threatened by the enforcement of the Establishment Clause – it is protected by it.  But the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment are not self-executing.  Congress has no business making it more difficult and more costly for average citizens to challenge violations of religious freedom.   The Senate should reject this disturbing legislation.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.

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