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U.S. Supreme Court

Taxpayers Can’t Challenge Religion Aid (Updated)

Posted Jun 25, 2007 12:15 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision has ruled that taxpayers do not have standing to challenge a White House program that encouraged faith-based organizations to seek federal aid.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote the majority opinion.

The plaintiff, the Freedom from Religion Foundation Inc., relied on a 1968 Supreme Court ruling that permitted taxpayer challenges to religious programs.

But the court said the old decision, Flast v. Cohen, did not apply, according to Associated Press.

"This case falls outside" the narrow exception allowing such cases to proceed, Alito wrote.

A controlling concurrence by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy emphasizes that the case involves a challenge to executive branch speechmaking, Marty Lederman writes for SCOTUSblog.

"The public events and public speeches respondents seek to call in question are part of the open discussion essential to democratic self-government," Kennedy writes. "The Executive Branch should be free, as a general matter, to discover new ideas, to understand pressing public demands, and to find creative responses to address governmental concerns."

Lederman notes the dissent by Justice Antonin Scalia, who urged the court to overrule Flast.

The court should not be afraid to overrule precedent "at the cost of meaningless and disingenuous distinctions that hold the sure promise of engendering further meaningless and disingenuous distinctions in the future," Scalia writes. "The rule of law is ill served by forcing lawyers and judges to make arguments that deaden the soul of the law, which is logic and reason."

The ruling is Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, No. No. 06–157 (PDF).

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