Tired of taxing litigation: Taxpayers should not foot bill for ACLU lawyers’ hefty fees

Voices of the Clarion

Posted: Sunday, March 19, 2006

One and a half million is a lot of dollars — a lot of taxpayer dollars I would just as soon see spent on something other than attorneys’ fees.

That, however, is approximately how much the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyers got for having the Boy Scouts booted out of a San Diego park, for having the Ten Commandments removed from an Alabama court house and for causing the destruction of a cross placed in the Mojave Desert in honor of military veterans.

The City of San Diego agreed to pay the ACLU $940,000 in attorneys’ fees to settle the ACLU’s multi-year litigation to remove the Boy Scouts from Balboa Park in the center of the city.

Arguing the Ten Commandments case in Alabama, ACLU lawyers collected $500,000.

They got another $63,000 from the Mojave Desert lawsuit.

That’s roughly $1.5 million in taxpayer money that I would much rather see spent on health care for veterans, adequate gear for soldiers, living expense stipends to families of troops deployed overseas or a host of other more meaningful expenditures of the tax dollar.

I haven’t necessarily made up my mind on all the issues the ACLU is bringing its suits over, but I don’t agree that taxpayers should pay their attorneys to bring the lawsuits.

If the ACLU is truly committed to its causes, they should pay their own way.

Take their stance against the Boy Scouts, for example.

The ACLU, as I understand it, is ticked because the Scouts require members to believe in God. Well, I believe in God too, but I don’t force my beliefs on others, even though the Constitution allows all to freely express their religious views.

The ACLU also opposes the Boy Scouts’ prohibition against allowing openly gay people to serve as scoutmasters.

While I practice tolerance of people of different ethnicity, religious beliefs and sexual preference than my own, I also feel an extra measure of protection is needed where children are concerned.

Under the guise of saying everyone should have equal access, the ACLU has filed actions seeking to have the U.S. military stop sponsoring Boy Scout troops and stop hosting the Boy Scout Jamboree every four years at Fort A. P. Hill in Virginia.

Saying that groups like the ACLU are convincing lawyers and judges to outlaw the values and religious symbols the nation’s founding fathers revered, the American Legion — the country’s largest veterans’ organization — has thrown its support behind House Bill H.R. 2679, the Public Expression of Religion Act.

Legion National Commander Tom Bock has said the bill “does not bar anyone from filing an Establishment Clause lawsuit. It merely follows the general American rule that each party bears its own attorney fees in lawsuits, and removes the threat of court-ordered attorney fees or damages in Establishment Clause claims only.”

In essence, the ACLU alleges that the Boy Scouts’ rules and displays such as the Ten Commandments in Alabama violate the First Amendment prohibition against any law respecting the establishment of religion.

The Legion, however, argues such acts have nothing to do with establishing religion, and in fact, prohibit the Scouts and others from exercising their First Amendment right to the free expression of religion.

The American Legion charges that the lawyers and judges are rewriting the U.S. Constitution, not by amending it, but by judicial edict.

In a mission statement supporting the PERA legislation, the legion states: “... judges in an increasingly tyrannical judiciary have issued orders ... that ban the Boy Scouts, ban the Ten Commandments, ban religious symbols at veterans’ memorials, ban the Pledge of Allegiance, ban historical religious symbols in the official seals of counties, and ban cities and the Department of Defense from assisting the Boy Scouts.

“At the same time, they award millions of dollars to the ACLU and others in attorney fees to be paid by taxpayers.”

The American Legion believes the threat of being ordered to pay large amounts in attorneys’ fees wrongly empowers the ACLU by forcing organizations to stop sponsoring the Boy Scouts or to destroy religious symbols like the Ten Commandments display.

PERA would limit remedies relating to violations of the Constitutional prohibition against the establishment of religion to injunctive relief, and would discontinue awarding attorneys fees with respect to such claims.

The legion believes, when the law is corrected and the incentives of taxpayer awards to the ACLU are cut off, the number of lawsuits “will be stopped or seriously decreased.”

As I understand it, the 1976 law that provides for attorneys fees to be awarded was meant to make it affordable for people whose civil rights were being violated to get relief through the courts.

The intent of that law, however, is being abused by the ACLU attorneys, who not only have an avowed dislike of the Boy Scouts, but are motivated by a selfish grab at taxpayer dollars.

I don’t have an opinion on whether the Ten Commandments should be displayed in front of an Alabama courthouse. Quite frankly, I don’t care one way or the other.

As far as I’m concerned, if schoolchildren don’t want to say “under God” while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance — or don’t want to recite the pledge at all — they can just stand there in silence.

Because I have seen Boy Scout training give Army recruits an edge when entering basic training, I actually think the Pentagon ought to take a look at funding the Boy Scouts, not kicking them off post.

And, if the ACLU lawyers truly believe they are protecting the civil liberties of all, there should be no hesitation on their part to represent that belief for gratis.

Phil Hermanek is a reporter for the Clarion.

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