Supreme Court Says No to Challenge of Federal Faith-Based Initiative

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - In a 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court Monday blocked a lawsuit by atheists and agnostics against the White House's faith-based initiative, which helps religious charities get federal grants. The suit targeted eight Bush administration officials, including the head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the taxpayers' group the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., which filed the suit, "set out a parade of horribles that they claim could occur" if the initiative is allowed to go forward. "Of course, none of these things has happened."

The conservative American Center for Law and Justice applauded the ruling, saying it "sends a powerful message that atheists and others antagonistic to religion do not get an automatic free pass to bring Establishment Clause lawsuits."

"The Supreme Court got it right in determining that the plaintiffs who challenged the president's faith-based initiative had no legal standing to do so," said ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow.

"This decision will have serious ramifications for separationist attempts to claim special privileges to sue as taxpayers without showing that a law or government activity actually injured them in any way. This is an important victory for the judicial system and for the president's faith-based initiative," said Sekulow.

"By rejecting a claim to special treatment for atheists and other separationists, the high court took an important step toward restoring equity to the legal system with respect to federal challenges in the Establishment Clause arena," he added.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State called the ruling "disappointing."

"This is a disappointing decision that blocks the courthouse door for Americans with legitimate church-state grievances," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Taxpayers should be allowed to challenge public funding of religion, whether the money is allocated by Congress or the White House.

"However," Lynn continued, "it is important to note that this ruling applies to only a few situations. Most church-state lawsuits, including those that challenge congressional appropriations for faith-based programs, will not be affected."

Alito said the "case falls outside" of a 1968 Supreme Court ruling - involving the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which financed educational materials in religious schools in poor areas - that allowed taxpayers to challenge federal programs that promote religion.

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