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Double jeopardy

Religion | The ACLU sues the government and soaks the taxpayers, mainline denominations target companies doing business with Israel, and other religion news

Issue: "MS-13: Criminals next door," June 18, 2005

Under a quirk in the 1976 federal civil-rights law, plaintiffs who bring an even partly successful civil-rights suit may have the defendant pay all legal fees for both parties. But defendants who win aren't permitted to recover legal costs from plaintiffs. The arrangement has helped attorneys for plaintiffs to cash in and force many defendants into out-of-court settlements. And when the government loses a case, it's the taxpayers who cough it up.

In one of the latest cases, a Wall Street Journal column by American Enterprise Institute writer Christopher Levenick described how the American Civil Liberties Union has pocketed $63,000 so far, and the meter may still be running. The case involves a prospector and his friends who decided in 1934 to honor their fallen comrades in World War I. They mounted a small cross made of iron pipe and stuck it on a hill called Sunset Rock in the Mojave Desert near the California-Nevada state line. Private groups continued to maintain the memorial over the years.

In 1994, the federal government declared the surrounding land a national preserve. A retired National Park Service ranger, Frank Buono, and the ACLU suddenly became interested in the memorial. Mr. Buono, who says he visited the site twice or so a year, took offense on church-and-state grounds and demanded that the Park Service remove the symbol.

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In the ensuing Buono v. Norton legal battle, the Park Service and defenders of the memorial lost in federal district and appeals courts. The government also refused to allow Sunset Rock to be deeded to Veterans of Foreign Wars. If Buono stands, it will have implications for many national cemeteries and government buildings.

Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) last month reintroduced the Public Expression of Religion Act. Plaintiffs could still ask the courts to prevent governmental endorsement of religion, but, as Mr. Levenick wrote, they "could no longer soak the public for the privilege of being sued."

Desist or divest

A movement is afoot by activist liberal church leaders on both sides of the Atlantic to force Israel to soften its policies toward the Palestinians. Although Israel already has started dismantling unauthorized Israeli settlements on Palestinian soil, the churchmen want greater and faster concessions. To press the Israelis harder, they are asking denominations to warn certain companies to stop doing business with Israel. If they don't desist, the participating denominations will then divest their holdings in the companies.

The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), representing 77 million Anglicans in 38 provinces, or regions, worldwide, is scheduled to act on such a proposal on June 22. It is contained in a 35-page report drawn up by the ACC's Anglican Peace and Justice Network. The ACC is expected to accept it and ask the 38 provinces to implement it. Britain's Jewish community condemned it (Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of England said "it doesn't reflect the present reality" in Israel), and some Church of England leaders warn it will inflict severe damage on Jewish-Christian relations.

Earlier this month, the Church of England's Ethical Investment Advisory Group, which guides the church on where to place its £4 billion ($7.2 billion) in holdings, rejected calls to withdraw its funds from Caterpillar. The firm's bulldozers have been used to clear Palestinian housing in Israel.

The divestment proposal is similar to the controversial one the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved last year, but which has gone virtually nowhere since. Next month, United Church of Christ delegates will vote on a corresponding resolution regarding $3 billion in holdings.

"Such one-sided approaches undermine rather than support the peace process," U.S. Reform Judaism leader Mark Pelavin told reporters.

Let the music play

A kindergarten class in Terrytown, La., was practicing a song for an end-of-school-year celebration in a public park, when principal Mary Ellen Heating banned it. The song, "I can't give up now," by the group Mary Mary, is about overcoming adversity. It contains no direct religious references, but Ms. Heating found offense in a single line: "I don't believe he brought me this far to leave me." That was intended as a reference to God, making the song impermissible, she decided. But under pressure from parents and the Christian law firm Liberty Counsel, she permitted the children to sing the song after all.

Battleground state

Plateau State, Nigeria's foremost tourist destination, is increasingly becoming a battleground as Islamic militants press southward. Already, Islamic law has been implemented-often violently so and with forced conversions-in 12 of the country's 37 states. Plateau State-home to many Christian organizations in the past-now is the dividing line. The government estimates at least 50,000 have been slain there, scores of villages destroyed, and more than 100,000 driven from their homes since attacks on Jos, the state capital, in 2001. Nigeria has one of the fastest-growing Christian communities in the world. Human-rights advocates predict more violence ahead as Islamic combatants from other countries join the battle to take over the Christian south.

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