Slamming the Courthouse Door on Church-State Cases?

By Boston, Rob | The Humanist, March-April 2007 | Go to article overview

Slamming the Courthouse Door on Church-State Cases?


Boston, Rob, The Humanist


IN FEBRUARY the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in an important case that could affect the right of all U.S. citizens to be free from government-sponsored religion.

The case, Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, looks complex and esoteric on the surface but presents a compelling question: When do citizens have the right to challenge government actions that promote religion?

Hein deals with a three-year-old controversy over the so-called "faith-based" initiative. In 2004 the leaders of the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sued various federal agencies, asserting that governmental advocacy of the initiative through the establishment of various faith-based offices and a series of regional conferences for clergy violates the separation of church and state.

In legal documents, the organization's attorneys argued that these conferences were clearly designed to urge religious organizations to seek taxpayer support. Thus, they favored religion over non-religion in violation of the First Amendment.

The case was rejected by a federal court, then reinstated on appeal and has now reached the nation's highest court. But interestingly, no court has yet addressed the core question raised by the case: Did these actions by government officials to promote the faith-based initiative violate the First Amendment? Rather, the legal fight has become bogged down in a dispute over "standing"--the right to sue.

Americans hear so much about lawsuits that the right to sue is taken as a given. Many Americans assume that as taxpayers they have an automatic right to challenge government actions. This isn't always so.

When it comes to church-state cases that center on tax funding of religion, the right to sue rests on a landmark 1968 Supreme Court case called Flast v. Cohen. In that decision a court majority ruled that taxpayers could challenge aspects of a federal education law that aided religious schools. Thus, a right that many Americans take for granted was codified less than forty years ago, and some far-right activists want to roll it back completely.

Other rulings have already curbed the right to sue in different contexts. In 1982 Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) lost a case at the Supreme Court challenging the federal government's decision to give surplus land to a religious college. A court majority ruled that AU had no standing to bring the case. Thus, the central issue of the land transfer was never seriously examined by any court.

The Hein case is important because it challenges an executive action. President George W. Bush, unable to get his faith-based initiative through Congress, has implemented much of it through executive orders and regulatory changes. The conferences in question were paid for with discretionary funds through the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In court papers, the Justice Department argues that the Freedom From Religion Foundation has no right to sue because no congressional appropriations are involved.

At the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Richard A. Posner was clearly skeptical of this contention. He pointed out that under this rule, there would be nothing to stop the Department of Homeland Security from using discretionary funds to set up a mosque and pay an imam to preach a moderate version of Islam.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Slamming the Courthouse Door on Church-State Cases?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.