Monday, June 25, 2007

Supreme Court Rules on Faith-Based Initiatives

The Supreme Court today ruled in the case of Hein vs. Freedom From Religion Foundation which challenged the constitutionality of President Bush's Office of Faith Based Initiatives. The Court dismissed the suit stating that the plantiffs in the case, Freedom From Religion Foundation, didn't have the proper standing to bring the suit.

The ruling is interesting because it doesn't necessarily address whether the President's faith-based initiatives are constitutional. Rather, the argument focused on a narrow issue in Establishment Clause litigation: under what circumstances can an individual or group bring suit against the federal government to halt funding of government program that seems to run afoul of the First Amendment.

Generally speaking, an individual taxpayer cannot bring suit against the government for any reason. However, there is a specific exception that was created by the Supreme Court in its 1968 ruling Flast vs. Cohen. That case requires that the program in question is the direct result of congressional funding.

The Court, in deciding the case, determined that because the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives is funded by the Executive Branch than directly by Congress there was no cause of action under Faust.

While the result will be applauded by conservatives, the Court has again opted to punt on dealing with the more serious issue of whether the Faust exception is constitutional at all. In the end, while the Court may have settled this case they have left the door open for more of this type of litigation to come from separatist groups. One can only hope that the Court can find the way to provide clearer guidance on these and other difficult constitutional questions.

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