June 25, 2007
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court today passed a ruling that severely curtails the ability of taxpayers to sue when government violates the separation of church and state. In Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Supreme Court found that lawsuits against the federal government’s executive branch for unconstitutionally promoting religion can no longer be filed on behalf of taxpayers. A previous 1968 ruling found that taxpayers could sue when the Congress spent money on religion, a special exception that had been carved out in order to address this constitutional issue.
“The Supreme Court’s decision allows the Executive Branch to steamroll over the Establishment Clause and spend our money to promote sectarian causes,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “The faith-based initiatives office is a case in point. Our money is being funneled to religious groups, who use that money to proselytize. But no longer do taxpayers have a right to challenge such cases of unconstitutional use of their hard-earned dollars.”
In Justice Souter’s dissent, he wrote, “When executive agencies spend identifiable sums of tax money for religious purposes, no less than when Congress authorizes the same thing, taxpayers suffer injury.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s original suit was challenging the constitutionality of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. “Bush’s religious beliefs drive many of these initiatives,” explained Speckhardt. Faith-based initiatives funding went to the Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, LA, whose mission (according to its website) is to “assist those who are struggling with addiction [to] become free through the Power of God.” This church was highlighted by President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address as a model for this government program, even though they rely “solely on the foundation of the Word of God to break the bands of addiction.”
“The Supreme Court makes the distinction between illegal actions performed by the Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch,” Speckhardt continued. “But there should be no such distinction. A violation of the First Amendment should be heard in a court of law, not protected by this new Court which is placing political and religious ideas over that of their mandate to protect the Constitution.”
Justices Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, Roberts, and Thomas were in the majority, marking another time the new court has been narrowly divided with all Catholic Justices in the majority. Scalia and Thomas said they would have gone further and overturned the 1968 ruling.
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The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) is the oldest and largest Humanist organization in the nation. The AHA is dedicated to ensuring a voice for those with a positive outlook, based on reason and experience, which embraces all of humanity.