It’s an odd thing.
We hear ceaselessly about the danger of legal costs anytime any governing body anywhere hints that it might stand up to anti-religious zealotry and defend its right to post the Ten Commandments or pray before meetings. (Yes, those are constitutional liberties, and no activist court can change that. With the right case, the current Supreme Court might even restore that commonsense understanding of the First Amendment.)
We are reminded again and again, for instance, that Hamilton County is inviting ever-so-dreadful legal expenses if it doesn’t start censoring and neutering the prayers offered at its meetings to “cleanse” them of references to Jesus Christ. Church-state separation and all that flapdoodle, you know.
Even when no governing body is involved in the religious expression, we hear the same argument: It’ll cost too much to defend it in court. (Remember the mind-numbing assault on student-made Bible verse banners at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School football games a few years back?)
Alas, fickle are the uses of the legal fee argument.
The city of Chattanooga’s potential challenge to Tennessee American Water’s proposed rate increase — an increase that would sustain a valuable, affordable, high-quality service to area residents — easily could entail enormous legal costs. And there’s barely a peep of protest from people who get practically convulsive about legal fees if they involve some official somewhere being caught uttering the name of Christ in a non-profane way.
For purposes of comparison, Chattanooga spent nearly $300,000 two years ago on legal fees in a spat over another proposed water rate hike. But a few years earlier, the Hamilton County Commission spent only one-fourth as much defending its right to post the Ten Commandments.
One action commendably attempted to uphold constitutional principles. The other was at least in part an indirect reflection of the desire by some city officials to take over the water company — for no good reason.
Which was money more frivolously spent?