Home > Bold Faith Type > House Subcommittee Takes Up Public Expression of Religion

House Subcommittee Takes Up Public Expression of Religion

June 23, 2006, 1:54 pm | Posted by FPL

As a first-time intern in DC, I have been astonished with the sheer quantity of things to do and see. Leaders in a city of leaders are always looking for a crowd to share their thoughts. Many of these opportunities have a great deal to do with our work at Faith in Public Life, so we will be taking advantage of these Washington resources by attending and offering our analyses.

Yesterday morning, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) chaired a hearing on a bill regarding the public expression of religion. This issue, a favorite used by some religious conservatives to label those who disagree with their agenda as anti-God, has been brought to the House of Representatives by Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN) with H.R. 2679, the Public Expression of Religion Act of 2005, or PERA.

Current law allows for people to file suit against state and local governments for alleged constitutional violations of the Establishment Clause in the 1st Amendment; i.e. the 10 Commandments in public courthouses or school prayer. Also, if court affirms a violation has occurred, the individual’s attorney fees are to be paid by the offending authority. PERA would change two aspects of the law: 1) only injunctive relief would be permitted in these cases (10 Commandments need to be taken down, but no monetary award), and 2) the attorney fee-shifting would be eliminated. Individuals would need to pay their legal fees even if the court finds a violation has been committed.

Though testimonies and debate focused on the legal procedures, it is apparent that the intent of the bill was to allow more leeway for religion in the public sphere and to take power away from those who claim to be offended by it. This debate asks a question that our organization, Faith in Public Life, and ourselves, as people of faith, are confronted with continually. What is the appropriate relationship of religious belief in politics and the public sphere? It is discouraging to watch as some individuals exploit faith for political gain by focusing on only a couple sensational issues; and we recognize the danger of a religious majority imposing its beliefs on others. However, we simultaneously believe faith has an important role in building a public conscience and enacting social justice.

We have tried to show that concerned religious individuals have already started to answer these questions. Take a look at our Faith Issues Resources, where you can find links to several resources and voices of faith on this issue of church and state. Several of those voices are highlighted in our Media Speakers Bureau, which includes Melissa Rogers, visiting professor of religion and public policy at Wake Forest University Divinity School and the founder and director of its Center for Religion and Public Affairs (check out her article Religious Freedom For All: Why the Supreme Court is right and the Family Research Council is wrong about religious freedom); K. Hollyn Hollman and Rev. J. Brent. Walker of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, which works to further the Baptist heritage that champions the principle that religion must be neither advanced nor inhibited by government; Rev. Dr. Welton Gaddy, President of the Interfaith Alliance and host of State of Belief, which is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation; and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Use these resources to learn how people of faith are integrating religion and public life in a meaningful way — without violating the lines that separate religion and government — to promote the common good.

2 Responses to “House Subcommittee Takes Up Public Expression of Religion”

  1. While I agree with your view that this is a dangerous piece of legislation, especially the provision on lawyer’s fees as it could put a practical obstacle in the way of another Consitutional right, to petition the government to redress grievances, there is another issue that I feel it necessary to address whenever the issue is the religious right. My own feeling is that Christian conservatives are beginning to understand that after nearly a generation of political activism, they have remarkably little to show for it. Richard Viguerie threatened to keep the religious right at home on election day, a threat that was directly responsible (in my humble opinion) for Pander Week in the United States Senate. Except for such a display of nonsense – and hearings such as those described above – the Republicans have yet to deliver in any fundamental, systematic way on its promises to the Religious Right. That the Republicans are playing conservative Christian voters should be obvious by now. That the Republicans are institutionally incapable of delivering on the bulk of the promises whould be obvious to any political observer. The questions are, (a) how do the Christian conservatives react; and (b) do progressive Christian reach out in faith to our brothers and sisters of differing politics, to discuss a whole series of issues surrounding the current electoral system in the United States. Personally, I feel that is a huge challenge to all Christians of whatever theological and political stripe.

  2. David Buckley says:

    Interesting comments Geoffrey. I agree that the Right is reaching a breaking point with SOME of its conservative religious supporters who are beginning to realize that they’re being manipulated for their numbers. If more progressive Christians can seize the opportunity to make their voice clearly heard on issues like poverty, the environment, and AIDS, the old Religious Right may start to show the internal diversity that’s been there all along. Some will become depoliticized, which has historically been the state of a large part of evangelical America. Some will show a willingness to take the progressives up on their offers to work together on common ground issues. A third substantial group will remain dedicated to the old religious right agenda of abortion and gay marriage, but with any luck the days when those were the only two priorities of religious people in American politics are at an end.