FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
UNION OF ORTHODOX JEWISH CONGREGATIONS WELCOMES U.S. SUPREME COURT RULING IN “FAITH-BASED INITIATIVE CASE” MAINTAINING NARROW EXCEPTION FOR TAXPAYER SUITS ALLEGING CHURCH-STATE VIOLATIONS
Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, welcomed today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court maintaining the strict limits under which any citizen, whose claim is based not on personal harm but on his status as a federal tax payer, may bring a lawsuit challenging government activity as a violation of the First Amendment bar against the “establishment” of religion.
The Court’s 5-4 ruling was authored by Justice Alito in the case of Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Foundation had challenged the use of government funds by the White House Office of Faith Based & Community Initiatives to hold conferences at which non-profit social welfare organizations were educated about opportunities and methods for securing government grants to support their social welfare work. The plurality opinion emphasized the exceptional nature of permitting “taxpayer standing” in Establishment Clause cases in the first place, and that expanding the exception to this case, where Congress had made no specific appropriation of funds for the challenged program, would not only so expand the exception to place it at odds with the general constitutional rule that a suit must be brought by an injured party, but would be impossible to administer as it would open up every government official to a lawsuit for stating “God bless America” at the conclusion of a speech. Justices Scalia and Thomas concurred in the ruling, but would have gone further and repealed the current exception for taxpayer standing. Justice Souter wrote the dissenting opinion.
Nathan J. Diament, public policy director for the Union, issued the following statement:
The Orthodox Union welcomes today’s sensible ruling by the Supreme Court. The plurality opinion maintains the careful and correct balance of allowing taxpayer suits for Establishment Clause challenges when there is a direct link between the taxpayer, a congressional appropriation and a possibly problematic program. This constitutional policy will allow for the continuation of appropriate interactions between the federal government and faith-based groups, under programs like President Bush’s initiative, and it is a most welcome ruling.