Atheists Have Had 'Free Pass' For Too Long, Law Group Says

By Payton Hoegh | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - Humanists and atheists gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court Wednesday, charging the Bush administration with overstepping its bounds by promoting grants to "faith-based" organizations.

The rally preceded oral arguments in a case being brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) against the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, set up by executive order in 2001 and headed by Jay Hein.

The American Humanist Association (AHA) called on supporters to gather in front of the Supreme Court to speak out against the initiative, calling it unconstitutional.

The FFRF, a partner of the Secular Coalition for America, claims that many of the office's activities propagated religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The clause says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation case will decide whether taxpayers have the right to challenge the government on this issue.

"The Supreme Court should leave the faith-based initiative alone and focus on removing the special privileges afforded to atheists and others who are antagonistic to religion," Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center For Law and Justice, said in a press release.

The ACLJ recently filed an amicus brief in support of the federal government in the Supreme Court case.

The arguments deal with the technical matter of whether taxpayers should be allowed to bring such lawsuits.


Along with the AHA, supporters of the Secular coalition for America, Secular Humanist Board, Atheist Alliance International, American Atheists, and the Secular Student Alliance participated in Wednesday's rally.

The groups hope the court will uphold a 1968 precedent of Flast v Cohen, which allowed taxpayers to challenge the government over violations of the Establishment Clause.

In the 1968 case, the court made an 8-1 decision in favor of taxpayers being able to challenge congressional spending for private religious schools.

Lori Brown of the Secular Coalition for America said that the government is giving preferential treatment to religious organizations.

"The activities of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives affect every U.S. taxpayer," she said. "It is taxpayer money that this office doles out with virtually no oversight, and that money is spent with virtually no accountability.

"We can no longer allow the federal government to favor certain religious organizations in what should be fair grant-making procedures," Brown said.

"We must dispel the myth that simply because these organizations are religious their program efforts will be successful and the government funds will be used without misappropriation."

Brown told Cybercast News Service after the rally that she hoped that the event had educated those who attended about the significance of the issue and its possible repercussions.

Depending on the court's decision, she said "this could become a major problem."

Christian supporters of Bush's initiative argue that the court should "put an end to federal taxpayer lawsuits by church-state separationists."

In the ACLJ's press release, Sekulow said, "There is no constitutional conflict in using tax dollars to fund faith-based initiatives."

"The church/state separationists have been given a free pass in federal court to bring Establishment Clause lawsuits," he argued. "They have not had to show that a law or government activity actually injured them in any way before they could challenge it in federal court. All they had to do was show that they were taxpayers.

"That is not only unfair, but wrong. We're hopeful the Supreme Court will put an end to the special treatment given to these plaintiffs."

"The high court needs to bring an end to the special treatment given to atheists and other separationists. The Flast precedent has created an uneven playing field because it empowered every disgruntled atheist to make a federal case out of any hint of religion in a government action," Sekulow said.

See Earlier Story:
Constitutional Experts Debate Merits of Faith-Based Initiatives Case (Feb. 22, 2007)

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