Gingrey votes to protect religious freedom
“The attack on our religious heritage is equally wrong as denying a person the freedom to worship. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.”
Public Expression of Religion Act
U.S. Congressman Phil Gingrey today voted to pass H.R. 2679, the Public Expression of Religion Act, which safeguards religious freedom in our communities. By allowing only injunctive relief in Establishment Clause cases, this bill helps ensure that state and local governments are not coerced into curtailing the free expression of religion.
Below are Congressman Gingrey’s remarks before Congress on this important legislation:
Remarks by U.S. Congressman Phil Gingrey, M.D. Public Expression of Religion Act September 26, 2006
Mr. Speaker, as you and many others may have noticed, if you look up from the front podium, in the center of the molding above the gallery is a sculpture of Moses, the man who freed the slaves in Egypt and introduced God’s law to man. Moses is at the forefront of all the great legal scholars depicted in this chamber because of his two responsibilities as both a religious leader and the custodian of God’s laws. The Ten Commandments are the foundation of Common law and the “rights endowed by our creator.” However, in recent decades, the Ten Commandments, religious symbols, and religious liberties in general have been under attack. More specifically, they have been under attack by the same interests that claim to represent civil liberties and free speech.
On July 19, 2005, a month after the Supreme Court ruled on the two Kentucky 10 Commandments cases, United States District Court Judge William O’Kelley ruled in my home state of Georgia that the courthouse in Barrow County, my daughter in laws home, had to remove a framed poster of the Ten Commandments and awarded the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) $150,000. Mr. Speaker, small counties like Barrow County can’t afford these costly lawsuits and my daughter in laws parents Emory and Pat House of Winder, Georgia experienced an increase in their taxes to pay for their court costs and legal fees. This past July, we had a debate over legislation to preserve the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego, California from having to remove a cross. Mr. Speaker, one can only wonder how those Korean War veterans, many of whom gave their lives for this country, might have felt had that cross been removed. Thankfully, Mr. Hunter’s legislation passed and was signed into law, but I am stunned with how far our society has fallen when people are compelled to sue a major city to have a cross removed from, of all places, a memorial cemetery? Mr. Speaker, we cannot continue to allow frivolous and frankly unwarranted lawsuits to stifle the beliefs and self-determination of our communities.
This is a text book example of an issue that needs to be addressed by Congress. I have always believed that one man’s rights end where another man’s rights begin. We need to draw the line, clarify our First Amendment, and ensure impartiality for legal challenges. The rule we are debating today would allow for the consideration of H.R. 2679, the Veterans’ Memorials, Boy Scouts, Public Seals, and Other Public Expressions of Religion Act of 2006. I want to thank Mr. Hostettler for sponsoring this legislation and Chairman Sensenbrenner for the opportunity to discourage frivolous obstruction to our Constitutional rights of religious expression.
The Public Expression of Religion Act would prevent federal courts from awarding monetary relief to parties claiming violations based on the constitutionally prohibited “establishment of religion.” In addition, H.R. 2679 would prevent plaintiffs who have won such claims from being awarded attorneys’ fees and expenses. However, what is more concerning is when a defendant decides to settle without challenging the frivolous accusations, not because they could not win, but because they cannot match the challenger’s legal war chest. H.R. 2679 will ensure that each party in an Establishment Clause lawsuit shoulders its own costs.
Mr. Speaker, beyond the issue of religious expression, this is an issue about lawsuit reform. We need to move away from the current sue or be sued society, which offers little to no repercussions for those seeking financial gain or the advancement of their personal and political agenda. As many of my colleagues know, before being elected to Congress I had a career as an OB/GYN physician. Most of my patients thought I was a successful doctor, but I was in constant fear of medical liability lawsuits and struggled to make my exorbitant mal-practice insurance payments. As a result, one of my primary objectives as a retired doctor and Member of Congress is to help pass medical malpractice reform and as a direct result reduce the cost of healthcare. What we have with Establishment Clause litigation is similar because the multiple lawsuits tie up our court system and affect everyone.
Mr. Speaker, the United States Constitution is a revolutionary and sacred document on many levels. Our founding fathers had great foresight when they designed our government. The first amendment is an absolute right, and should not misinterpreted to allow these attacks on our freedom of religion. The attack on our religious heritage is just as wrong as denying a person the freedom to worship. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. It is my hope that with the passage of this legislation, we can prevent future Barrow County rulings and preserve our nation’s heritage. I ask my colleagues to support this legislation.