ADL Disappointed In Supreme Court Decision Limiting Taxpayers' Right To Challenge Faith-Based Funding
New York, NY, June 25, 2007 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today expressed disappointment in the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, calling it a "setback to religious liberty in America." In a narrow 5-4 ruling, the Court concluded that taxpayers have "standing to sue" only when Congress spends money in a way that violates the freedom of religion clauses of the Constitution.
ADL had joined a coalition of civil rights groups in a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Court not to overturn an important rule that gives taxpayers the right to challenge inappropriate government endorsement of religion in federal court.
Marvin Nathan, ADL Civil Rights Chair, and Deborah M. Lauter, ADL Civil Rights Director, issued the following statement:
The Supreme Court's decision in Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation significantly curtails the right of taxpayers to take the government to court when it spends their tax dollars in a way that unconstitutionally advances or hurts religion, a right which has been a bedrock of religious liberty in this country. It is an unfortunate and disappointing setback to religious liberty in America. Importantly, however, this decision does not limit the ability of participants in government-funded faith-based programs to sue in court if they are subjected to discrimination or unconstitutional proselytizing. Those battles remain to be fought another day.
The Court largely ignored the fact that no congressional legislation has authorized the President's faith-based initiative. It cannot be that the many billions of dollars that have been made available to faith-based institutions under the President's program are immune from challenge by taxpayers.
Acknowledging this major gap in enforcement of the freedom of religion clauses, Justice Kennedy, in his concurrence to the opinion, tries to ease concerns about the decision by expressing his faith in government officials to "make a conscious decision to obey the Constitution." But such self-policing by government officials is not, and has never been, good enough to ensure compliance with the law.
We are pleased that the Court refused the urging of some conservative organizations to completely reject taxpayer standing to challenge congressional appropriations that violate the separation of church and state. However, as Justice Souter pointed out in his dissent, "When executive agencies spend identifiable sums of tax money for religious purposes, no less than when Congress authorizes the same thing, taxpayers suffer injury." Highlighting the danger posed by today's decision, he added that "if the Executive could accomplish through the exercise of discretion exactly what Congress cannot do through legislation, Establishment Clause protection would melt away."
ADL's brief urged the Court to reject suggestions that this case be used to overrule the landmark case of Flast v. Cohen (1968), which secured the important right of "taxpayer standing." ADL, a leading advocate for religious freedom, had also filed an amicus brief in that case.
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.