Congress pulls word ‘lunatic’ from federal law

WASHINGTON — You can say “lunatic” all you want, but you probably won’t have the government’s blessing.

The word “lunatic” will be stricken from federal law under legislation that passed the House Wednesday and is headed to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The congressional action is the latest effort to remove language from the U.S. code that has become outdated or demeaning. Two years ago Congress took out references in federal law to the term “mental retardation.”

“The term ‘lunatic’ holds a place in antiquity and should no longer have a prominent place in our U.S. code,” said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., shortly before the 398-1 vote in the House. The word is derived from the Latin word from moon and ancient beliefs that people could become “moonstruck” by lunar movements.

The legislation cites one instance in banking regulation that refers to the authority of a bank to act as “committee of estates of lunatics” on guardianship issues.

The measure passed in the Senate in May, sponsored by Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho. “Federal law should reflect the 21st century understanding of mental illness and disease, and that the continued use of this pejorative term has no place in the U.S. code,” Conrad said.

The legislation had the backing of mental health groups, including the coalition organization Mental Health Liaison Group, which said that use of outdated and offensive terms such as “lunatic” ”only serve to perpetuate this stigmatization” against people with mental health conditions.

Bob Carolla of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said another phrase that is stigmatizing and obsolete and should be removed is “a mental defective.”

The lone “no” vote was cast by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who said in a statement that “not only should we not eliminate the word ‘lunatic’ from federal law when the most pressing issue of the day is saving our country from bankruptcy, we should use the word to describe the people who want to continue with business as usual in Washington.”

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