Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – HR 535 lawsuit, dismissed but resolution rebuked

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Way back when in February, Rep. Saccone succeeded in getting HR 535 passed unanimously by hiding it among other “noncontroversial” resolutions.  However, when people actually read it, something that seems rather beyond many Pennsylvanian legislators, they discovered it wasn’t so “noncontroversial” at all.  Among Mr. Saccone’s claims that are outright lies:   

“WHEREAS, The Bible, the word of God, has made a unique contribution in shaping the United States as a distinctive and blessed nation and people;” 

No evidence of this at all.  Such desperation to be a special snowflake!

“WHEREAS, Biblical teachings inspired concepts of civil government that are contained in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States;” 

Ah, no it doesn’t, not even remotely. Nothing in the Judeo/Christian bible that mentioned anything about democracy, disobediance of a king, etc.  Honestly, Saccone, have you even *read* the bible or the Declaration or the Constitution?

“WHEREAS, Renewing our knowledge of and faith in God through holy scripture can strengthen us as a nation and a people;”

No evidence that it can.  Also no evidence that Saccone’s version of Christianity is the “right” one and the only one to be followed in order to get this magical “strength”.  Should it be Roman Catholic who want to control women and homosexuals?  The United Church of Christ who don’t have their knickers in a twist over that?  Which one? 

“therefore be it RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives declare 2012 as the “Year of the Bible” in Pennsylvania in recognition of both the formative influence of the Bible on our Commonwealth and nation and our national need to study and apply the teachings of the holy scriptures.” 

Nope, no need for *everyone* to read one religious text, and certainly no need to apply its very questionable teachings to anything. Slavery anyone?  Genocide for theists to have the land they want?  Eternal torture for anyone not accepting a certain god?   It is only by some heavy-duty cherry picking does Christianity become something decent.  It’s not all “love thy neighbor” despite the claims of Christians.  I suggest everyone read it sometime.

You can see the rest of my blog post about HR 535 here.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation sued Saccone, et al, for their actions to try to sneak around the wall between church and state.  The judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner, found that the FFRF and its plaintants in the state did have legal footing to claim injury from such a “noncontroversial” resolution.  Unfortunately, the judge came to the conclusion that Saccone et all had “absolute legislative immunity”, a relatively obscure legal idea that is meant to protect legislators from lawsuits that arise from them “acting in the sphere of legitimate legislative activity” e.g. if anyone gets angry at a legislator for any reason that is legislatively based, they can’t sue just because of that.  Admittedly, this is a good thing that this is in place.  Can you imagine all of the nuisance lawsuits?  Unfortunately, I find that the judge screwed up here, since trying to lie and force the recognition of one’s personal religion into the government isn’t what I find to be “legitimate legislative activity”.  It is indeed nothing more than “gratuitious political grandstanding”. Alas, there is a SCOTUS ruling that resolutions, as pointless as they are, are just as protected as voting and committee work.  Here’s the entire decision.

Judge Conner did use the word “pellucidly” (transparently clear), which gets him props for having a very good vocabulary 🙂  And he did say this (I broke it up into paragraphs for ease of reading):

“However, the court’s determination that the defendants engaged in a “legislative act” for purposes of immunity should not be viewed as judicial endorsement of this resolution. It most certainly is not. At best, H.R. 535 is a benign attempt to reaffirm the underlying principles of the Reagan proclamation of 1983. At worst, it is premeditated pandering designed to provide a reelection sound bite for use by members of the General Assembly. 

But regardless of the motivation behind H.R. 535, its express language is proselytizing and exclusionary (e.g., “ Renewing our knowledge of and faith in God through holy scripture can strengthen us as a nation and a people”). The court is compelled to shine a clear, bright light on this resolution because it pushes the Establishment Clause envelope behind the safety glass of legislative immunity. That it passed unanimously is even more alarming. 

This judicial rebuke of the resolution is not intended to impugn the religious beliefs of any citizen. To the contrary, the court’s disapprobation is directed to the blatant use of legislative resources in contravention of the spirit – if not the letter – of the Establishment Clause. At a time when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania faces massive public policy challenges, these resources would be far better utilized in meaningful legislative efforts for the benefit all of the citizens of the Commonwealth, regardless of their religious beliefs.” 

The judge points out that this lawsuit goes no further only because of legislative sleight of hand, a hiding behind the skirts of freedom and law to do something less than palatable.  What the resolution actually says is simple pandering and politics that have wasted time, resources and have attempted to create an “us” and “them” based on religion.  Reagan’s proclamation did much the same thing, with the same false claims used by Saccone.

He is right to be alarmed at what seems to be nothing more than willful ignorance and/or laziness by the rest of the legislators who didn’t even read the resolution and passed it sight unseen.  It shows that there are some uncomfortable possibilities, that the legislators aren’t doing their jobs or that they intentionally disregard one of the most benefits of living in the US, the right to pursue one’s religion or not at the case may be, with no state involvement allowed.  

It’s time to hold our legislators accountable.  Write them, write letters to the editor of your hometown newspapers.  It’s up to the people to defend the ideals of the country, not to assume that the greedy and the fearful will do it for us.  They won’t.  

***BTW, U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner is a George W. Bush appointee and ruled against the ACA, so tsk tsk on you if you whine about “activist” judges.

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