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Saturday, December 02, 2006

'Faith-Based' Case Deals with Narrow, But Important Issue, Group Says

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether taxpayers may challenge the Bush administration's use of general appropriations to promote its "faith-based" agenda.

In 2005, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that three Wisconsin taxpayers had legal standing to challenge President Bush's creation of a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and other promotion of his faith-based initiative.

The Bush administration asked the high court to overrule the decision, arguing that under current court precedent, taxpayers may only challenge congressional appropriations of funds if the money goes to religious organizations. The executive branch's use of general appropriations to set up its faith-based office and promote a faith-based agenda are not fit subjects for legal challenge, the administration argued.

"This is a relatively narrow question," says Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, "but it's quite important. We believe that no tax money should be spent to advance religion. It's essential that the justices uphold the principle that taxpayers can go to court when their money is being used to advance religion."

Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation will be the first church-state case to come before the high court since two Bush appointees -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito -- have taken seats there.

Says Lynn, "Both Roberts and Alito expressed general support for church-state separation during their confirmation hearings. This case will be a good opportunity for them to put that viewpoint to good use."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

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