A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit over a Pennsylvania General Assembly resolution that declared 2012 as the “Year of the Bible,” but hammered state lawmakers for approving the legislation.
“At best, H.R. 535 is a benign attempt to reaffirm the underlying principles of the Reagan proclamation of 1983,” U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner wrote in his decision (PDF). “At worst, it is premeditated pandering designed to provide a reelection sound bite for use by members of the General Assembly.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone (R) in March, alleging the “Year of the Bible” resolution he introduced was a violation of the First Amendment.
In his ruling on Monday, Conner held that members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly had “legislative immunity” and therefore could not be sued. He noted that courts had long established that lawmakers could not be sued for “acts that are ‘legislative’ in nature.”
Despite dismissing the lawsuit, Conner delivered a stinging rebuke of the resolution, which states that the nation needs “to study and apply the teachings of the holy scriptures.”
“But regardless of the motivation behind H.R. 535, its express language is proselytizing and exclusionary… 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,” he wrote.
The resolution was unanimously approved by the General Assembly in January, a fact that Conner described as “alarming.”
[A Bible and a crucifix via Shutterstock]