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House mounts political assault on Constitution to destroy separation
of church and state


WASHINGTON, DC, June 18�A flurry of votes on church-state matters in the U.S. House of Representatives represents one of the most deplorable assaults on religious liberty in recent memory, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Within a 24-hour period, the House considered and passed four amendments to a juvenile justice bill (the Consequences for Juvenile Offenders Act of 1999, H.R. 1501), each in apparent conflict with religious freedom and the First Amendment.

"This outrageous display is one more sad example of religion being used as a political football by members of Congress who obviously cannot find a real solution to a problem," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Government-forced religion is never the answer; families need to be responsible for any religious education of their children, not government.

"Some members seem to think they can use the law to impose their personal religious views on everyone," Lynn added. "In a pluralistic country like ours, that is flatly wrong."

The church-state riders were added to the juvenile justice bill, which has become a focal point for congressional reaction to the shooting tragedy at Columbine High School. The four amendments to H.R. 1501 in conflict with church-state separation include:

  • An amendment that would deny attorney's fees to people who successfully challenge the constitutionality of religious memorials and services in public schools, sponsored by Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.). H.Amdt.198 passed 300-127.
  • An amendment that denies attorney's fees to people who successfully sue a public school that has violated religious neutrality, sponsored by Rep. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). H.Amdt.199 passed 238-189.
  • A "charitable choice" amendment that would provide tax dollars to religious social service providers in dealing with juvenile justice, sponsored by Reps. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) and Phil English (R-Pa.). H.Amdt.201 passed 346-83.
  • A provision that would allow the display of the Ten Commandments in public schools, sponsored by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.). H.Amdt.200 passed 248-180.

"The Supreme Court has already made clear that the posting of religious texts such as the Ten Commandments in public schools is unconstitutional," added Lynn. "Clearly this vote is not about principle, it's about politics.

"If these amendments were to ultimately become law, they would be challenged in court immediately," Lynn concluded. "This effort is patently unconstitutional. Congress should spend more time following the Ten Commandments and less time trying to exploit them for political purposes."

The House juvenile justice legislation under consideration follows Senate passage of a similar bill last month. Although the Senate did not consider a Ten Commandments provision, the Senate bill included memorial service and charitable choice provisions identical to those adopted by the House. If the House passes this legislation, a compromise version would still need to be worked out with the Senate.

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