Thursday, October 5, 2006

76. Call law what it really is

A recent trend in Congress is the attempt to pass bills through what I would call, "the backdoor." Actually, it is probably not a recent trend; it is just that I notice it more nowadays. I am also sure that it is not a partisan issue, but my recall is largely limited to the last several years of Republican rule.

There are several ways this is accomplished, such as adopting a popular or patriotic name for the bill, attaching it to a larger perhaps even compromising bill, or rendering a law meaningless by cutting off its funding source. They all lack integrity and serve nothing more than to "trick" the general, unsuspecting public. Elected officials that engage in this practice are an embarrassment to the political system- regardless of which political party they belong to.

I have previously noted the improper notion of the Patriot Act, which is actually a stripping of civil liberties, that was unread and passed by Congress in the early morning hours. The bill has nothing to do with patriotism, and one could even argue that infringing on civil liberties is, in fact, quite unpatriotic. It is more accurately described as the search for terrorists, acted upon with few boundaries. Ironically, appropriately described, it might still have passed due to the level of fear propagated by the government.

In another example, Congress recently considered a bill involving the death tax and the minimum wage. Project Vote Smart summarized it this way, "a motion to invoke cloture on a bill that increases the federal minimum wage to $7.25 by June 2009 and increases the "Death/Estate Tax" exemptions to $5 million by 2015 and extends many other expiring tax provisions (Sec. 401) (Sec. 101) ." It does not seem to me that something as important as raising the minimum wage ought to be attached to any other bill, especially one that provides such a benefit to the very wealthy- many of whom are voting on the bill itself. To me, it is analogous to your boss offering you a significant raise if you promise to ask your neighbor to feed his or her dog a little extra. I have to ask, whatever happened to the Republican plea for an "up and down" vote.

Recently, I was made aware of another sneaky and inappropriately named bill attempting to get through Congress. This one is entitled, "Public Expression of Religion Act" (H.R. 2679)." The American Humanist Association, among several opposing the bill, summarizes it this way, "This bill would bar courts from awarding attorney's fees to prevailing parties bringing suit under the Establishment Clause, and they would make it much more difficult for citizens to challenge governmental violations of the separation of church and state."

Very clever, but really, how does the person who authored and entitled this bill sleep at night? It has little to do with the public expression of religion; rather it seeks to accomplish just the opposite- preventing individuals from exercising their religious freedom. The bill seeks to prohibit victorious (that's right, victorious) attorneys from collecting their fees. Unsuccessful lawsuits do not receive attorney fees; which, of course, is the natural deterrent from investing in cases that have little chances of winning.

Thus, in order to protect the government's actions as a conscious hindrance of religious freedom under the Establishment Clause, the sponsors of this bill have resorted to cutting off the financial support necessary of bringing suit against those actions. To me, this is an immoral manipulation of our most precious freedoms. Rather than expect the government to follow the laws of this country and the rights of individuals, Congress would rather prevent its citizens, especially its poorest citizens, from challenging it.

Following a bill through Congress, as it weaves through the House and Senate, is difficult enough. Certainly there many other examples, such as the Horse Slaughter bill and the bills that attempted to commence drilling in Alaska. This is still a representative government, and I am sure that those of us that would like to occasionally follow the legislative process would appreciate our perspective laws being properly named, fairly presented and of respectable moral standard.

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