Supreme Court Urged to End 'Special Privileges' for Atheist Activists

Susan Jones | Senior Editor | Thursday, January 4, 2007

Supreme Court Urged to End 'Special Privileges' for Atheist Activists

( - A conservative civil liberties group is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to put a stop to lawsuits filed by "church-state separationists."

"For years, atheists and others who are antagonistic to religion have had special privileges in federal court," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, which litigates religious liberty issues.

"Unlike everyone else, church/state separationists have not had to show that a law or government activity actually injured them in any way before they could challenge it in federal court. All they had to do was show that they were taxpayers. In essence, separationists have had a free pass to bring Establishment Clause lawsuits. That's unfair. No other citizens can sue just because they pay taxes," Sekulow said.

On Feb. 28, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, a case where "separationist taxpayers" challenged a federal faith-based initiatives program.

A federal court in Wisconsin earlier dismissed the case, ruling that taxpayers had no "standing to sue - because there was no federal grant at issue. But a federal appeals court reinstated the suit, ruling that the separationists had standing to challenge the use of federal funds to run the faith-based program.

The federal government then petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case. A ruling is expected by June.

In its friend-of-the-court brief in support of the federal government, the ACLJ pointed out that no federal taxpayer suits are allowed in any other context aside from Establishment Clause suits challenging federal spending.

The ACLJ said it is urging the court to hold that the same rules apply to church-state separationists as to everyone else.

"It's time the Supreme Court took another look at whether taxpayer suits under the Establishment Clause make sense under the Constitution," Sekulow said.

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