Law & Courts

Legal Challenge to Faith-Based Initiative Is Revived

By Andrew Trotter — January 24, 2006 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit that challenges activities of the centers for faith-based initiatives in the Department of Education and other U.S. agencies.

The centers are a key part of the Bush administration’s push to promote the inclusion of religious organizations in government social-services programs. President Bush used executive orders to introduce the central elements of that effort after Congress balked at his initiative in 2001.

On Jan. 13, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, ruled 2-1 that the Freedom From Religion Foundation has standing to challenge activities of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives and the centers in various departments.

The Madison, Wis.-based foundation, representing its members as taxpayers, cited a series of government-funded conferences aimed at helping representatives of religious and community organizations apply for government grants. The suit contends that the conferences promote religious organizations over secular groups.

A federal district judge in Madison ruled that the taxpayers lacked standing to sue over the conferences because they couldn’t identify a specific government spending decision that had harmed them.

But the 7th Circuit panel ruled that taxpayers may sue over a violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition on a government establishment of religion, even if Congress hasn’t specifically allocated money for the challenged program or activity.

“Taxpayers have standing to challenge an executive-branch program, alleged to promote religion, that is financed by a congressional appropriation, even if the program was created entirely within the executive branch, as by presidential executive order,” U.S. Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner wrote in the opinion.

The court sent the case back to the U.S. District Court in Madison for the trial judge to consider the merits of the foundation’s claims.

The federal government was reviewing the decision, a spokesman for the Department of Justice said last week.

‘Not Entirely Frivolous’

Despite reinstating the lawsuit, Judge Posner expressed skepticism about the group’s “wordy, vague, and in places frivolous” complaint, which alleged that President Bush had violated the establishment clause by extolling the power of faith-based groups to aid in social services. Judge Posner noted that the district judge had rejected the suit’s challenge of a remark by then-Secretary of Education Rod Paige about “the power of faith to change lives.” That part of the ruling was not appealed.

But Judge Posner wrote in the opinion, “the complaint is not entirely frivolous, for it portrays the conferences organized by the various [faith-based] centers as propaganda vehicles for religion, and should this be proved one could not dismiss the possibility that the defendants are violating the establishment clause.”

Annie Laurie Gaylor, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s co-founder, said in an interview that the ruling was a victory not just for her organization, “but for citizens for the right to contest unconstitutional actions by the executive branch.”

Ms. Gaylor said the group would now continue its legal campaign to “eradicate” the Bush administration’s faith-based initiative.

“The government is not a national endowment for churches and faith-based organizations … that are proselytizing with tax dollars,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the January 25, 2006 edition of Education Week as Legal Challenge to Faith-Based Initiative Is Revived

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Deepen the Reach and Impact of Your Leadership
This webinar offers new and veteran leaders a unique opportunity to listen and interact with four of the most influential educational thinkers in North America. With their expert insights, you will learn the key elements
Content provided by Solution Tree
Science K-12 Essentials Forum Teaching Science Today: Challenges and Solutions
Join this event which will tackle handling controversy in the classroom, and making science education relevant for all students.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Stronger Together: Integrating Social and Emotional Supports in an Equity-Based MTSS
Decades of research have shown that when schools implement evidence-based social and emotional supports and programming, academic achievement increases. The impact of these supports – particularly for students of color, students from low-income communities, English
Content provided by Illuminate Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Supreme Court to Hear Case of Coach Who Prayed After Games in Defiance of School District
The U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether school districts may prohibit private religious expression by public school employees.
4 min read
Former Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy is in a conflict with the Bremerton, 
Wash., school district over his silent prayer after games.
Former Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joseph A. Kennedy stands at on the 50-yard line at Bremerton Memorial Stadium. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal over his dismissal for praying after football games.
Larry Steagall/Kitsap Sun via AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court Blocks Biden Vaccine Mandate Applying to Schools in Much of the Country
The justices ruled 6-3 to stay an Occupational Health and Safety Administration rule that covered schools in 26 states and two territories.
4 min read
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo last April.
The U.S. Supreme Court blocked a federal vaccine mandate for large employers, including school districts in about half the states.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP
Law & Courts Students Lose Appeal on Right to Civics Education, But Win Praise From Judges Anyway
A federal appellate court panel commended Rhode Island students for the novel effort, but said Supreme Court precedent stood in the way.
3 min read
Scales of justice and Gavel on wooden table and Lawyer or Judge working with agreement in Courtroom, Justice and Law concept.
Pattanaphong Khuankaew/iStock
Law & Courts High Court Appears Skeptical of Vaccine Mandate Covering Schools in Over Half the States
The Biden administration's OSHA rule applies to private employers with 100 or more workers, as well as school districts in 26 states.
4 min read
The Supreme Court shown Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, in Washington. The Supreme Court is taking up two major Biden administration efforts to bump up the nation's vaccination rate against COVID-19 at a time of spiking coronavirus cases because of the omicron variant.
The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing two Biden administration efforts to bump up the nation's vaccination rate against COVID-19.
Evan Vucci/AP