Supreme Court Agrees To Review ‘Faith-Based’ Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether taxpayers may bring a legal challenge against the White House’s “faith-based” agenda.

On Dec. 1, the justices announced that they will hear oral arguments in February over a lower court decision that said three Wisconsin taxpayers had standing to sue the Bush administration for its creation of an Office of Faith-Based and Com­munity Initiatives and other promotion of the faith-based initiative.

In 2005, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation ruled that taxpayers “have standing to challenge an executive-branch program, alleged to promote religion, that is financed by a congressional appropriation….”

The Bush administration asked the Supreme Court to overrule the 7th Circuit, arguing that court precedent allows taxpayers to challenge congressional aid to religion, but not executive branch actions that rely on general funds.

“This is a relatively narrow question,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, “but it’s quite important. We believe that no tax money should be spent to advance religion. It’s essential that the justices uphold the principle that taxpayers can go to court when their money is being used to advance religion.”

Lynn noted that the case is the first church-state controversy to reach the court since two Bush appointees – Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito – have joined the bench.

“Both Roberts and Alito expressed general support for church-state separation during their confirmation hearings,” Lynn said. “This case will be a good opportunity for them to put that viewpoint to good use.” (For a full analysis of this important case, see the February 2007 issue of Church & State.)