WASHINGTON - September 21 - Americans United for Separation of Church and State has urged Congress to reject a "court-stripping" bill that blocks federal lawsuits involving the Pledge of Allegiance.
The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote this week on the so-called "Pledge Protection Act." The bill, H.R. 2028, states that no federal court, including the Supreme Court, may hear lawsuits raising constitutional challenges to the Pledge.
Americans United, however, argued in a Sept. 21 letter to House members that the Pledge Act is "an extreme and unwise proposal" that should be soundly rejected by Congress. The bill is unconstitutional, AU said, threatening the independence of the judiciary and the rights of religious minorities.
"This measure yanks from the federal courts the ability to ensure fundamental constitutional rights for all Americans," said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. "It is a shameless effort to curry favor of the Religious Right during this election season.
"This bill is especially harmful to religious minorities that object to reciting the Pledge on grounds of conscience," Lynn continued. "This measure would slam the federal courthouse door in their faces and deny them the right to seek justice."
The Pledge Act is one of several court-stripping bills pending in the House. In July, the House voted in favor of the "Marriage Protection Act," which strips the federal courts of the power to hear legal challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
The Pledge bill was spurred by lawmakers' unhappiness with a federal appeals court ruling in 2002 that invalidated public school recitation of the Pledge because of its religious content. That federal appeals court ruling, however, has recently been nullified by the Supreme Court on technical grounds.
Americans United has also helped lead a coalition of religious, civil rights and other public interest groups opposed to H.R. 2028. In a Sept. 20 letter to House lawmakers, the coalition, which includes the American Jewish Committee, Americans for Religious Liberty, the Baptist Joint Committee and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, urged the measure's defeat.