Taxpayers Should Be Allowed To Challenge Bush 'faith-based' Office, Americans United Tells Supreme Court

AU's Lynn Says Justices Should Protect Right of Citizens To Fight Government Promotion of Religion

The U.S. Supreme Court should affirm the right of taxpayers to challenge the Bush administration’s use of public funds to support religion, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed today, Americans United urged the justices to uphold precedent that allows taxpayers to sue when the government uses tax dollars for religious purposes.

Americans United called on the high court to hold that three Wisconsin taxpayers have legal standing to challenge President George W. Bush’s creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and other promotion of his “faith-based” agenda.

“We hope the Supreme Court rules that taxpayers may go to court to challenge government spending that supports religion,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Public funds should not be used to advance religion, and Americans must have the ability to prevent that from happening.”

In Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Bush administration is urging the Supreme Court to overrule the 7th U.S. Circuit of Appeals and other federal courts that have upheld taxpayer challenges to government expenditures on religion. The administration argues that legal precedent only allows taxpayers to question government appropriations if they go directly to religious organizations.

Americans United, along with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, the Anti-Defamation League, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and People For The American Way Foundation, said the Bush administration’s analysis is flawed and an attempt to block citizens from fighting for their constitutional rights.

Citing a 1968 Supreme Court decision, the groups’ brief noted that history “vividly illustrates that one of the specific evils feared by those who drafted” the First Amendment “was that the taxing and spending power [of Congress] would be used to favor one religion over another or to support religion in general.”

The 23-page brief concluded that the high court should protect the principle that, “When taxes levied and appropriated by Congress are spent in violation” of the separation of church and state “a taxpayer may constitutionally challenge such expenditures because he suffers a direct and concrete injury that is caused by the illegal expenditure and that would be redressed by enjoining it.”

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.