Supreme Court Blocks Atheists' Attack on Faith-Based Programs

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that ordinary taxpayers cannot challenge the White House initiative that helps faith-based organizations receive federal funding – a major victory for religious charities that receive government support.

In a 5 to 4 vote, the nation's highest court dismissed a lawsuit by a group of atheists and agnostics who wanted the White House to stop holding conferences with faith-based programs to help them apply for federal grants, contending that it violates the Establishment Clause. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

The Supreme Court's ruling, however, creates a precedent that being a taxpayer does not give one the right to object to the federal government's spending based on an alleged violation of the Establishment Clause.

"Simply being offended by religion does not allow a taxpayer to run to a court and have the government stop something he or she doesn't like," said Jordan Lorence, Alliance Defense Fund senior counsel.

"In pushing their radical and exclusionary agenda, the Freedom from Religious Foundation put their extreme view of the Establishment Clause ahead of the pressing need for compassionate efforts by faith-based organizations to help the less fortunate," Lorence said. "Real people would have suffered if the atheists' lawsuit would have been allowed to move forward."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit against the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Jay Hein, and seven other Bush administration officials claiming that federal tax dollars supporting religion was a violation of The Establishment Clause. FFRF argues that taxpayers who object to federal funding of the faith-based programs should be allowed to sue to block such funding.

In 2002, President Bush established a Faith Based and Community Initiative Plan to provide grants to faith-based programs and grassroots community organizations. Bush said he wanted to balance out government grant to religious and secular charities through the initiative.

The White House conducts conferences to inform charitable groups – both secular and faith-based – about existing federal grant programs to help the poor and how to apply for such grants.

"From the first days of my Administration, we've championed the idea that those in need are better served when government draws on the strengths of every willing community partner – secular and faith-based, large and small," Bush said in a statement. "These efforts fortify America's safety net and expand our nation's supply of compassion."

In fiscal 2005, federal agencies awarded $2.1 billion to religious charities, according to a White House report. Among the programs awarded are: substance abuse treatment, housing for AIDS patients, community re-entry for inmates, housing for homeless veterans and emergency food assistance.

"[This ruling] is a win for the many whose lives have been lifted by the caring touch and compassionate hearts of these organizations," Bush said.