February 28, 2007

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Bush Administration Seeks to Block Challenges to Government Funding of Religious Activities

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court today heard arguments in an appeal by the Bush administration to severely limit the right of taxpayers to sue over government funding of religious activities. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups filed a brief urging the Court to uphold legal precedent and protect religious freedom.

“Tax dollars may not be used to subsidize religious activity,” said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the ACLU. “Barring taxpayers from enforcing this fundamental principle in court would effectively license the government to violate the Constitution.”

Since its 1968 ruling in Flast v. Cohen, the Supreme Court has allowed individual taxpayers to challenge the use of tax dollars to promote religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. This longstanding principle prevents the government from using the power of the purse to favor one religion over another or support religion in general. Although that principle has been repeatedly and recently reaffirmed by the Supreme Court, the government is challenging it in this case, which arises in the context of the administration’s broader effort to increase federal funding for faith-based groups.

The plaintiffs in the case, Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, are Wisconsin taxpayers who argue that the Bush administration’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives is illegally using federal tax dollars to promote religion.
“The Supreme Court should not give the Bush administration free rein to promote religious activity on the taxpayers’ dime,” said Daniel Mach, an attorney with the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “Many times, the people who bring these lawsuits risk their livelihood and their safety to fight for a freedom that is a cornerstone of our democracy. These courageous Americans should be commended, not silenced.”

The ACLU’s friend-of-the-court brief in this case is online at www.aclu.org/scotus/2006term/28235res20070202/28235res20070202.html


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