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On the 26th, the House approved a bill, 244-173, that would deny compensation of legal fees to successful challengers to government Establishment Clause violations.

What does that mean? Any money the ACLU and other individuals and organizations spend on attorneys in combating unconstitutional relations between church and state must now come out of their own pockets -- when it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per case to ensure that our democracy doesn't gradually become a theocracy under the influence of the religious right. Recompensation for fees in successful suits ensures that those whose constitutional rights are violated always have the opportunity to go to court to contest those violations, regardless of whether they are rich enough to afford the attorneys themselves (as they often are not).

As lack of success in court entails no compensation, there is an incentive to bring serious cases and a disincentive to bring frivolous cases. This bill, the Public Expression of Religion Act (PERA, H.R. 2679, brought by Rep. John Hostettler, R-IN) undermines this safeguard in our system. It simply protects our government's unconstitutional use of religion, even in egregious cases of brazen discrimination.

Although I understand the fears of the American Legion and other groups who mobilized in favor of the bill, concerned with the allowance of religious symbols on veterans' graves and other issues, I believe there is a line between religion as public (the Ten Commandments do not belong in courthouses) and as personal (at gravesites) that the courts would not overlook were the issue to arise.

I can only hope that it will be incredibly difficult to gain Senate approval on this measure due to the upcoming recess and to intelligent, forward-thinking Senators, as the success of this measure, and the 26 Democrats and 218 Republicans who voted in favor of it, makes me fear immensely for the future of our country.