Saturday, June 24, 2006

From the world of wacky statute proposals.

This is simply unreal. The money quote is:
To amend the Revised Statutes of the United States 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.

This is particularly weird to an English-born Canadian (both the British and Canadian civil courts routinely include fees as part of the damages awarded to successful litigants). And I don't know what to make of the attempted connection with religious freedom -- collecting attorney's fees doesn't just apply to religious groups.

It's been pointed out that, should this law not die in committee (as most do), it may tend to favour groups -- such as the religious right -- that routinely violate the Constitution and get called to task by other groups -- such as the ACLU. And that's true, but it misses the point. The central point is that if I sue someone successfully, then that means the person I sued did something wrong. Which means that I should not only get something above the amount of money/goods I started with, but I should not have had to outlay anything in the first place (after all, I'm the one wronged; why should I pay when I'm in the right?). That is the reason why I should get my lawyer's fees paid for. And that is what's wrong with this law. If the person I sue is a religious group, that doesn't give them a get-out-of-jail-free card, any more than being a religious leader gives one amnesty from being jailed for child abuse.

(Maybe that's why it's getting connected to religious freedom? Because, once the civil courts have excused religious groups from culpability, then the criminal courts are next? Why not just reinstate ecclesiastical courts and be done with it?)

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