Contact: Nathan Bupp
Amherst, NY (April 28, 2010) -- The Council for Secular Humanism applauds an important decision made by the Florida First District Court of Appeal on April 27 in Council for Secular Humanism v. McNeil, setting the stage for a likely appeal to the state Supreme Court. In their ruling, the appellate court called upon the state Supreme Court to decide whether Florida’s constitution bars the state from contracting with sectarian entities for social services, an issue the appellate court described as a “question of great importance.”
The Council, along with co-plaintiffs Richard and Elaine Hull, initially filed suit in Leon County Circuit Court in May 2007 challenging the legality of a state law permitting government payments to faith-based organizations for social services. The Council based its challenge on the Florida Constitution, which includes a "No-Aid" provision mandating that no revenue of the state be provided "directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."
“I'm delighted that our case is now eligible to be heard by the Florida Supreme Court,” said Thomas Flynn, executive director the Council for Secular Humanism. “Though the Council has filed amicus briefs in numerous church-state cases, CSH v. McNeil is our debut as a lead plaintiff. Yesterday's decision reaffirms what we already knew -- that the fundamental principle behind this case is extremely important.”
Calling this a potential watershed moment, Flynn says that more than half the states have no-aid provisions similar to Florida's in their constitutions and, if won, this case will likely be a springboard for mounting similar challenges elsewhere.
In a case that has had many twists and turns, the Council won an important victory on December 15, 2009 when the District Court of Appeal reversed a lower court ruling that dismissed the Council’s lawsuit entirely. One day before New Year's Eve the defendants filed a motion to have their appeal heard before the entire bench of appellate judges. This latest ruling has denied their request and certified to the justices on the Florida Supreme Court the question of whether “the No-Aid provision in Article I, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution prohibits the state from contracting for the provision of necessary social services by religious or sectarian entities?” Whether the Supreme Court accepts the case is purely within its discretion.
Derek C. Araujo, director of the Council’s legal programs, declared, “The appellate court's grant of the motion to certify question shows how significant the issues in this case are. CSH v. McNeil could be an important test of state courts' willingness to enforce ‘No-Aid’ provisions in state constitutions. For years the defendants have resorted to every tactic to prevent this case from ever going to trial. We have every expectation that the defendants will muster all of their resources for an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.”
Both Flynn and Araujo say that the Council for Secular Humanism is prepared to meet that challenge.
The Council for Secular Humanism is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization promoting rational inquiry, secular values, and positive human development through the advancement of secular humanism. The Council, publisher of the bimonthly journal Free Inquiry, has a Web site at www.secularhumanism.org.