For immediate release
Contact: Nathan Bupp
Phone: (716) 636-4869, ext 218
Amherst, New York (June 25, 2007)—The Council for Secular Humanism, Inc., a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote religious liberty by enforcing the separation between church and state, criticized Monday’s 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that federal taxpayers do not have the right to challenge expenditures made by the Executive Branch that are arguably in violation of the Establishment Clause. The decision was handed down in the case of Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, Case No. 06-157.
In this case, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), a freethought association headquartered in Wisconsin, and some of its members sued the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and the heads of several executive departments alleging, among other things, that they had used public funds to create “faith-based centers” in various departments. These centers had, in turn, sponsored conferences and workshops in an effort to funnel grant money to faith-based contractors. One of the arguments the government made in defending against the suit was that the members of FFRF lacked “standing” to sue as taxpayers. In other words, FFRF and its members did not even have the right to have their claims heard. Although the Supreme Court has recognized taxpayer standing in some Establishment Clause cases, the government argued that taxpayer standing applied only when the taxpayers were challenging congressional action and in this case FFRF was challenging executive action.
The Supreme Court ruled that there is a distinction between the two sources of taxpayer funds, a position with which the Council for Secular Humanism disagrees. Paul Kurtz, chairman of the Center for Inquiry/Transnational, and David Koepsell, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, who filed a joint amicus brief in support of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s lawsuit, expressed their disappointment over the decision. Kurtz observed that “a narrow majority of the current Supreme Court is plainly hostile to Establishment Clause lawsuits. Preventing taxpayers from challenging inappropriate use of public funds simply because they are channeled through the Executive Branch threatens to shield many government actions from legal scrutiny.” Koepsell stated that the “Establishment Clause was intended to prevent the government from using public funds to support religion, whichever branch of government makes the final decision on how the money is allocated.”
In an opinion written by Bush-appointed Justice Alito, the Court held that taxpayer suits would be strictly limited to suits challenging expenditures of funds that are clearly mandated by Congress. In a separate concurring opinion, Justices Scalia and Thomas—no friends of religious liberty—indicated they would have gone even further and would have barred taxpayers from challenging any actions by the federal government. Justice Souter authored a vigorous dissent, pointing out that “when executive agencies spend identifiable sums of tax money for religious purposes, no less than when Congress authorizes the same thing, taxpayers suffer injury.”