- FFRF sues Warren mayor over crèche display (Dec. 22, 2011)
- FFRF challenges Arizona Day of Prayer in state court (Jan. 4, 2012)
- FFRF sues over Pennsylvania 'Year of Bible'
- FFRF v. Ulysses Press (Sept. 13, 2011)
- FFRF vs. Gov. Rick Perry's prayer rally (July 13, 2011)
- FFRF & Friends Sue Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer over Arizona Day of Prayer
- FFRF & Friends Challenge 'Under God' in Pledge in New Hampshire Schools (with Mike Newdow)
- FFRF Sues Bush (Now Obama) over National Day of Prayer Proclamations
- FFRF v. Geithner Parsonage Exemption
- FFRF Sues to Stop Religious Engravings at Capitol Visitor Center
- Watchdog, Parents File Suit Against South Carolina Release-Time Credits
- Newdow, FFRF & Coalition Sue to Halt Inaugural Prayers
- FFRF Sues City of Rancho Cucamonga over Censorship of "Imagine No Religion" Billboard
- FFRF Challenges North Dakota's Subsidy of Christian Juvenile "Ranch"
- FFRF Challenges New Mexico Faith-based Prison Program
- The Hein Decision: FFRF Sues Over Bush's Offices of Faith-based Initiatives
- FFRF Sues Veteran Affairs Department Over Religion
- FFRF Challenges Emory University Grant
- Christian County Sued
- A Banner Case
On behalf of a local member, the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit on Dec. 22, 2011, in the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, charging Mayor James R. Fouts, of Warren, Mich., with government censorship of its nonreligious views and unlawful endorsement of religion. FFRF sought a preliminary injunction to enjoin the mayor from continuing to establish religion “by allowing public displays of only religious symbols” and to order him to allow placement of FFRF’s Winter Solstice display. The lawsuit, FFRF v. City of Warren, was filed by the firm of Butzel Long in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., which is representing both FFRF and its member plaintiff pro bono. FFRF alleges censorship, establishment of Christianity and denial of equal protection under the law by the city of Warren.
The mayor responded to a demand letter sent by attorney Danielle Hessell with a letter that called FFRF’s sign “highly offensive.”
Fouts, amusingly, compared FFRF’s request to place its sign saying "There are no gods" to putting up a “sandwich board saying that there is no Santa Claus.” Fouts stated: “I cannot and will not sanction the desecration of religion it the Warren City hall atrium.”
The legal complaint summarizes the chronology of the mayor’s endorsement of religion and censorship of the views of FFRF and its member Douglas Marshall of Warren, a named plaintiff. FFRF complained about the nativity display in the city hall atrium more than a year ago, eventually receiving a response on Dec. 8, 2010, in which Fouts wrote that “all religions are welcome to celebrate their religious seasons with a display in city hall.” Marshall tried in vain repeatedly to obtain permission to place the FFRF sign in the city hall atrium.The complaint called Fouts’ denial of a permit to Marshall “an unconstitutional, content-based restriction on plaintiffs’ expression in a traditional public forum.” As the Supreme Court has held, “a principle at the heart of the Establishment Clause [is] that government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion.” The mayor’s preference for the nativity display, and discriminatory practice against the plaintiffs also denies them equal protection under the law.
“As a result, Defendants send a clear message to Plaintiffs that they are outsiders and not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message that those who favor the Christian religion are insiders and favored members of the political community," charges the Complaint.
FFRF asks the court to enjoin the mayor from barring the FFRF sign, to find that the city has violated the rights of FFRF and its member, and to award nominal damages and reasonable attorney’s fees.
On May 31, 2012, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Zatkoff issued a ruling granting the city’s motion for summary judgment. FFRF has appealed this decision to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
On February 25, 2013, a 3-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the district court. In an opinion authored by Judge Sutton, the panel found Warren's display to be permissible government speech.
FFRF, its Valley of the Sun Chapter and several members as well as plaintiffs who were Buddhist, Christian and Muslim, filed suit in state court, challenging the constitutionality of Arizona Gov. Janice K. Brewer's annual Arizona Day of Prayer. The lawsuit was filed in Superior court of Arizona, County of Maricopa in January of 2012. Judge Eileen Willett dismissed the case on August 13, 2012 for lack of standing and for lack of jurisdiction to issue relief to the plaintiffs. On Nov. 16, 2012, FFRF and the individual plaintiffs filed an appeal to Division One of the Arizona Court of Appeals arguing that their injuries are sufficient to challenge the Governor's proclaimed days of prayer.
The Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal based on a lack of plaintiff standing on June 11, 2013. In an unpublished opinion, Judge Donn Kessler wrote that the plaintiffs would have to demonstrate behavior of avoidance of the violative conduct or "that the alleged violation is so pervasive and continuing that it of necessity affects on a practical level how the plaintiffs interact with government." In its earlier briefing, FFRF emphasized court decisions that allowed standing where the plaintiffs had unwelcome contact with government speech promoting religion. The court did not reach the merits of the constitutional claims.
FFRF Appeal Brief (Oct. 1, 2012)
Governor's Answering Brief (Dec. 28, 2012)
FFRF Reply Brief (Jan. 22, 2013)
FFRF filed suit challenging a declaration by the Pennsylvania House that 2012 is "The Year of the Bible." FFRF brought suit on behalf of its 599 Pennsylvania members, including 41 named state members, and its chapter, Nittany Freethought. The federal lawsuit was filed March 26, 2012, in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Defendants are State Rep. Rick Saccone, author of the resolution, Clancy Myer, House Parliamentarian and Anthony Frank Barbush, House Chief Clerk. “FFRF's membership includes individuals residing in Pennsylvania who have had direct and unwanted exposure to the Year of the Bible Resolution and the hostile environment created thereby as a result of the official declaration of a state religion by the Pennsylvania Legislature,” notes the legal complaint. Members include “individuals [who] oppose governmental speech endorsing religion because they are made to feel as if they are political outsiders.” The bible “contains violent, sexist and racist models of behavior that FFRF members find personally repugnant, and which potentially could encourage persons who rely on them to act in a manner harmful to them and others.” HR 535 sends a message of Christian endorsement and disparagement to nonbelievers. “HR 535 improperly proclaims the bible to be ‘the word of God,’ . . . the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has no such authority or right to determine what is ‘the word of God,’ or if there is a ‘word of God,’ or if there is a ‘God’,” maintains FFRF. Our nation is not founded on religious belief or a bible, but upon “a secular and godless Constitution, which grants sovereignty not to a deity or a ‘holy book,’ but to ‘We the People.’ ”
FFRF asked the court to find that HR 535 violates the Establishment Clause, to order defendants to discontinue further publication and distribution of HR 535, to declare that public officials in Pennsylvania are indeed subject to the Establishment Clause, to declare that the theocratic principles of the bible do not constitute the ”official, preferred or endorsed religion” of the state, and to declare that the government is not “Judeo-Christian.”
U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner on Oct. 1, 2012, dismissed the case, ruling House officials had legislative immunity, but chastened House officials for "premeditated pandering" and expressed alarm that the resolution passed unanimously. Conner wrote: "At worst, it is premeditated pandering designed to provide a reelection sound bite for use by members of the General Assembly. But regardless of the motivation . . . its express language is proselytizing and exclusionary. . . . The court is compelled to shine a clear, bright light on this resolution because it pushes the Establishment Clause envelope behind the safety glass of legislative immunity."
FFRF filed a copyright infringement suit on Sept. 13, 2011 relating to unauthorized use of its Freethought of the Day website feature. See our statement.
The suit is Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Bookpack, Inc., United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, Case No. 11-CV-634.
The case was settled in 2011.
FFRF filed a federal lawsuit on July 13, 2011 in the Southern District Court of Texas in Houston seeking to block Texas Gov. Rick Perry from continued association with the evangelical Christian prayer rally he initiated at Reliant Stadium in Houston to take place on Aug. 6, 2011. On behalf of its 700 Texas members, FFRF, as well as five of its Houston members asked the federal court to declare unconstitutional Perry’s initiation, organization, promotion and participation in the Aug. 6 prayer event. Perry had issued a proclamation to promote the prayer rally calling Aug. 6 a "Day of Prayer and Fasting for our Nation's Challenges." The rally itself was initiated by Perry. The American Family Association took on the details for the event, called "The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis." The website for The Response, linked from the governor’s official website, http://www.governor.state.tx.us, conveys Gov. Perry’s hope that the prayer rally will provide divine guidance to the nation, and Perry’s videotaped invitation to join him on Aug. 6 to turn to Jesus and ask for God’s forgiveness. The homepage bears Perry’s open invitation as governor to “fellow Americans” to join him and other “praying people” in “asking God’s forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our state and nation. There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.”
On July 22, FFRF exposed the use of Gov. Perry on robocalls promoting the rally: “This is Governor Rick Perry and I'm inviting you to join your fellow Americans in a day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our nation. As an elected leader, I am all too aware of government's limitations when it comes to fixin’ things that are spiritual in nature. That's where prayer comes in, and we need it more than ever. With the economy in trouble, communities in crisis and people adrift in a sea of moral relativism, we need God's help. That's why I'm calling on Americans to pray and fast like Jesus did, and as God called the Israelite to do in the Book of Joel. I sincerely hope you will join me in Houston on August the sixth and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God's forgiveness, his wisdom and provision for our state and nation. To learn more, visit TheResponseUSA.com, then makes plans to be part of something even bigger than Texas.” On July 25, FFRF filed a motion seeking to enjoin Perry was continuing to promote the prayer rally. FFRF asked that Perry be barred from participating “in his official capacity as governor as a speaker at the event,” and to rescind his proclamation calling Aug. 6 a “day of prayer and fasting for our nation’s responses.” U.S. District Judge Gray Miller dismissed the lawsuit on July 28, ruling that the plaintiffs lacked standing. “Nobody would have trouble seeing the injury if a governor aligned himself with a radical Muslim group and used his office to call all citizens to a daylong prayer to Allah rally," noted FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
FFRF held a “dinner of nonprayer and nonfasting” Aug. 5 for Houston-area members to honor the local co-plaintiffs in the case. After being denied use of any billboards near the stadium to protest the entanglement, FFRF commissioned an airplane to fly a banner: "Gov: Keep state/church separate. FFRF.ORG," over the stadium event and leased a mobile billboard with a caricature of the prayerful governor next to this message: "Beware Prayer by Pious Politicians: Get off your knees and get to work."
FFRF, with four of its Arizona members, filed a lawsuit on March 15, 2010 in U.S. District Court, District of Arizona, to enjoin Arizona Gov. Janice K. Brewer from declaring an Arizona Day of Prayer in this or future years. She has issued such proclamations in conjunction with the National Day of Prayer. The lawsuit also seeks a declaratory judgment declaring that Brewer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in declaring her Arizona Day of Prayer last year.
Order Dismissing Case: filed 12/12/11
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has joined Michael Newdow in launching a new challenge of the religious phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Plaintiffs include the Foundation and a Hanover couple with children in the schools who are Foundation members. The suit, filed in federal court on Oct. 31, 2007, names Congress and three local school districts. A 2002 state law requires New Hampshire schools to include recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in every school day, but adds that student participation is voluntary. The parent plaintiffs believe that by including the phrase in the pledge, the district is "endorsing the religious notion that God exists" and thereby creates a "societal environment where prejudice against atheists . . . is perpetuated." "It should be noted that Plaintiffs are making no objection to the recitation of a patriotic Pledge of Allegiance," the Complaint notes. "The government is certainly within its right to foster patriotism, and it may certainly make the determination that recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance serves that purpose. However, government may not employ or include sectarian religious dogma towards this end. By placing the religious words 'under God' into the pledge, Congress not only interfered with the patriotism and national unity the pledge was meant to engender, but it actually fostered divisiveness. . . in a manner expressly forbidden by the Constitution," writes Newdow in the legal complaint.
On Jan. 18, 2008, 51 members of Congress won court permission to intervene in the lawsuit. The interveners, including three U.S. Senators — Sam Brownback, James M. Inhofe, and Ted Stevens — and 48 members of the House, asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. A number of individual religionists in the school district, as well as the Knights of Columbus, also intervened in the lawsuit. (The Catholic men's club originally spearheaded the campaign to insert "under God" into the previously secular pledge.) U.S. Dist. Judge Steven J. McAuliffe issued an order on Aug. 7, 2008, agreeing to dismiss Congress as a defendant. But the Court denied the State of New Hampshire's motion to dismiss, as well as the motion to dismiss filed by several intervening individuals and the Knights of Columbus. A 3-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Nov. 12, 2010 against FFRF's challenge of the new Hampshire School Patriot Act. A request for en banc review was turned down on Dec. 28, 2010. Michael Newdow with plaintiffs asked the Supreme Court to review the decision on March 25, 2011.
Legal Complaint (pdf)
Press release about Complaint
McAuliffe Aug. 7, 2008 ruling (pdf)
First Amended Brief, filed October 2008 (pdf)
The Foundation, a national state/church watchdog, filed a federal lawsuit on Oct. 3, 2008, broadly challenging the federal law designating a National Day of Prayer and requiring a National Day of Prayer Proclamation by the President. In addition to suing Pres. George W. Bush (amended to Pres. Barack Obama), the lawsuit named his press secretary, Dana Perino (amended to Robert Gibbs), Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, one of 50 governors to also issue prayer proclamations, and Shirley Dobson, chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. Public Law 100-307 sets the first Thursday in May as "National Day of Prayer." The 1952 law, passed at the behest of Rev. Billy Graham, exhorts citizens to "turn to God in prayer, at churches." The Foundation is seeking a declaration that the law violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The suit alleges that a task force associated with Focus on the Family is "working hand-in-glove" with the government in organizing the National Day of Prayer. When FFRF, for pragmatic reasons, dropped the Wis. governor as a defendant, the court also dropped the NDP Task Force as a defendant. However, the judge permitted the case to continue and ruled that the plaintiffs — FFRF and six of his officers and board members — had standing to bring the suit.
In a historic decision on April 15, 2010, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb for the Western District of Wisconsin ruled in FFRF's favor, finding the law unconstitutional and enjoining Pres. Obama not to issue a prayer proclamation. Crabb stayed the order for the injunction during the appeal. On April 14, 2011, a 3-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled that FFRF and its nonbelieving plaintiffs did not suffer any injury in being exhorted to set aside an entire day for prayer once a year by Congress and the President, and thus did not have standing to sue. FFRF is asking for an en banc review by the entire 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Case No. 08-CV-588
Press Release (Oct. 3, 2008)
Complaint (Oct. 3, 2008)
Amended Complaint (Feb. 10, 2009)
2008 Presidential Proclamation & all 50 2008 gubernatorial proclamations (pdf)
Federal Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Jan. 12, 2009)
Defendant Shirley Dobson's Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint (March 9, 2009)
Defendant Shirley Dobson's Motion to Dismiss Brief (March 9, 2009)
Reply in Support of The Federal Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint (March 12, 2009)
Plaintiffs Brief in Opposition to Motions to Dismiss (April 7, 2009)
Exhibit A (pdf)
Exhibit B (pdf)
Exhibit C (pdf)
Exhibit D (pdf)
Exhibit E (pdf)
Exhibit F (pdf)
Exhibit G (pdf)
Exhibit H (pdf)
Exhibit I (pdf)
Defendant Shirley Dobson's Reply in Support of Her Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint (April 24, 2009)
Opinion and Order Re: Motion to Dismiss (May 26, 2009)
Plaintiffs' Responses to Federal Defendants' Statement of Proposed Findings of Fact (Nov. 16, 2009)
Plaintiffs' Brief in Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment (Nov. 20, 2009)
Plaintiffs' Additional Proposed Findings of Fact in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Nov. 20, 2009)
Deposition of Shirley Dobson (Nov. 20, 2009)
Exhibits for Dobson Deposition
Plaintiffs' Brief in Support of Judgment in Their Favor (Dec. 10, 2009)
Plaintiffs' Proposed Findings of Fact (Dec. 11, 2009)
First Opinion and Order (March 1, 2010)
Final Opinion and Order (April 15, 2010)
Before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Brief for Appeal by Obama Administration, Defendant-Appellants, filed July 2, 2010
ACLJ Amicus Brief
Attorneys General Amicus Brief
Dobson et. al Amicus Brief
Justice and Freedom Fund Amicus Brief
Foundation for Moral Law Amicus Brief
National Day of Prayer Task Force Amicus Brief
Wallbuilders Amicus Brief
Friend of the Court briefs in favor of FFRF
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, along with 21 of its California members, has filed a nationally significant federal lawsuit in Sacramento to challenge tax benefits for “ministers of the gospel,” commonly known as “the parsonage exemption.”
Ministers, who are paid in tax-free dollars, also may deduct their mortgage interest and property tax payments. Under both federal and California law, allowances paid to “ministers of the gospel” are not treated as taxable income. “Ministers of the gospel” may uniquely claim these benefits, so the statutes convey a governmental message of endorsement, unconstitutionally favoring religious employees and institutions over all others, the Foundation maintains.
The lawsuit was filed Oct. 16 in California Eastern District Court, Sacramento office. Judge William Shubb will preside over the case. Attorney Richard Bolton, Madison, Wis., with local counsel Michael Newdow, Sacramento, represent the Foundation and its plaintiff members.
The Foundation seeks a declaration that, on their face and as administered, provisions allowing tax benefits for “ministers of the gospel,” provided for by the IRS and Treasury Department, violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Defendants are Timothy Geithner, U.S. Treasury secretary; Douglas Shulman, Internal Revenue Service commissioner; and Selvi Stanislaus, executive officer of the California Franchise Tax Board, who are all providing tax benefits only to “ministers of the gospel,” rather than to a broad class of taxpayers.
The exemptions permit clergy to deduct from their taxable income housing allowances furnished as part of compensation. The unique benefits to clergy date to 1954, when Congress amended the tax code to permit all clergy to exempt their housing costs from their incomes taxes. U.S. Rep. Peter Mack, author of the amendment, declared:
Certainly, in these times when we are being threatened by a godless and antireligious world movement we should correct this discrimination against certain ministers of the gospel who are carrying on such a courageous fight against this foe. Certainly this is not too much to do for these people who are caring for our spiritual welfare.
Section 107(2) allows ministers to avoid paying taxes on income declared to be a “housing allowance.” The privilege also permits churches to save money on clergy salaries. Most egregiously, clergy may “double-dip,” i.e., deduct their mortgage payments and real estate taxes from income tax, even though they paid for these with tax-exempt dollars, amounting to a government subsidy solely for clergy.
In 2002, Congress acted to protect the exemption, after the IRS sued over an abusive housing allowance taken by Rev. Rick Warren, by limiting deductions in future to “reasonable rental value.”
“All other taxpayers pay more because clergy receive this privileged benefit,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president.
“The income taxation of ministers of the gospel under the general rules that apply to other individuals would not interfere with the religious mission of churches or other organizations or the ministers themselves,” the legal complaint maintains. The statutes are not an accommodation of religion, therefore, but a subsidy.
The Supreme Court has previously ruled that a tax benefit given only to religion violates the Establishment Clause (Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock, 1989).
Complaint (Oct. 15, 2009)
Government's Motion to Dismiss (Feb. 26, 2010)
Stanislaus' Motion to Dismiss (Feb. 26, 2010)
Plaintiffs' Opposition to Government's Motion to Dismiss (April 20, 2010)
Plaintiffs' Opposition to Stanislaus' Motion to Dismiss (April 23, 2010)
Stanislaus' Reply in Support of Motion to Dismiss (May 3, 2010)
Government's Reply in Support of Motion to Dismiss (May 3, 2010)
Plaintiffs' Reply Memorandum Regarding Question by Court (May 13, 2010)
Ex. A - Plaintiff's Reply Memorandum Regarding Questions
Ex. B - Plaintiffs' Reply Memorandum Regarding Question
Decision and Order (May 21, 2010)
Amended Complaint (June 18, 2010)
Motion to Dismiss (Dec. 23, 2011)
Withdrawn in 2011. See new Sept. 13, 2011 challenge.
The Foundation and its Co-Presidents filed suit on July 14, 2009, to stop the prominent engraving of "In God We Trust" and the religious Pledge of Allegiance at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington D.C. The lawsuit was filed by attorney Richard Bolton in U.S. District Court in the western district of Wisconsin. The House and the Senate passed resolutions in July 2009 directing the Architect of the Capitol to engrave the mottos, with an expected cost of at least $100,000. Religious members of Congress had threatened to delay the opening of the Visitors Center, through which every visitor to the Capitol must now pass, unless "God is welcomed back into the Center." The Foundation contends that the motto, "In God We Trust," is a johnny-come-lately, usurping the original, secular "E Pluribus Unum" (from many, come one), only adopted during the Red Scare in the 1950s. Similarly, the once secular pledge was tampered with by Congress in 1954, when it added "under God" wording.
The Foundation and two parent complainants in Spartanburg, S.C., filed suit in U.S. District Court, Spartanburg Division, Greenville, S.C., on June 17, 2009, challenging the awarding of academic credits for evangelical release-time instruction. "A public school could not constitutionally teach this course, but in South Carolina, a student can now get a public school academic credit for taking this class," explained George Daly, a well-known North Carolina civil rights attorney who is representing the plaintiffs.
Read press release
Moss v Spartanburg Co. School District 7:09-cv-01586-RBH Complaint (pdf)
Exhibit A (pdf)
Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss
Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss Equal Protection Claim
Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dissmiss Second Amended Complaint
Opinion and Order for Motion to Dismiss
Third Amended Complaint
Defendant's Answer to Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint
Response of Plaintiffs to Defendants Motion for Summary Judgement
Memorandum in Response to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment
Plaintiff's Reply to Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment
Reply Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
Memorandum in Support of Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment
Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
Summary Judgment Opinion and Order
Before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals
The petition for a writ of certiorari was filed on Oct. 2, 2012. The Court denied the petition on Nov. 13.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, its co-presidents and several of its members are among the many co-plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit, Newdow v. Roberts, filed on Dec. 30, 2008, by attorney Michael Newdow in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking to enjoin the Presidential Inaugural Committee from sponsoring prayers at the official Inauguration. The 34-page Legal Complaint also punctures some myths, documenting that for most of our country's history, no clergy led prayers at inaugurations. The original complaint has been amended to include many more freethinkers, including minor students, from around the nation, as well as a variety of groups. The case was dismissed, and lost on appeal.
Case No. 08-2248 RBW
Read press release/complaint
Oral Argument Request Brief (Appeal) (pdf)
Brief Appendix (pdf)
Decision by Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, Newdow v. Roberts, No. 09-5126 (May 7, 2010) (pdf)
The national Freedom From Religion Foundation filed suit on Nov. 26, 2008, in federal court against the City of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., for taking actions which led to the censorship of its "Imagine No Religion" billboard on Archibald and Foothill Blvd, Route 66. The Foundation had prepaid for the board and contracted for a two-month run beginning in mid-November. The Board had been up for less than a week when it was removed at the apparent instigation of a city official. "The Defendants' actions conveyed a message that religion is favored, preferred, and promoted by the City of Rancho Cucamonga and its officials, despite subsequent attempts to cover up the Defendants' involvement in sending an objectively understood message disapproving FFRF's billboard," said the Foundation.
Case No. 2:08-CV-7833
Read Complaint (pdf)
Proposed Order (pdf)
Declaration of Annie Laurie Gaylor (pdf)
Declaration of Wendy Leung (pdf)
Declaration of Richard L. Bolton (pdf)
Plaintiff's Statement of Genuine Issues in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (pdf)
Plaintiff's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (pdf)
Summary Judgment Decision from Judge (pdf)
The Foundation, with three of its North Dakota members, filed a federal lawsuit in North Dakota on June 19, 2007, challenging state and county subsidy of avowedly Christian juvenile detention facilities. The ranch, run by the Lutheran Church/Missouri Synod, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, "attempts to modify behavior by directing children to find faith in the Lord Jesus Christ," the Foundation legal complaint alleges. The facilities incorporate biblical teachings, subscribe to the three Ecumenical Creeds and the Lutheran Confessions, and schedule weekly Spiritual Life Groups activities, church attendance or other spiritual activities on Sundays, individual spiritual discussions, prayers at meals, baptism, confirmation studies, devotions, bible studies and related discussion groups. Post-release mentoring services also incorporate religion and are publicly funded with taxpayer appropriations. The ranches, run by two Lutheran denominations, have monopolized juvenile detention services in the state for many decades.
Case No. 2007 CV 00043
Read Complaint (pdf)
U.S. Dist. Judge Daniel L. Hovland on July 17, 2008, granted the motion to dismiss the federal lawsuit, saying the Legislature does not explicitly mandate that state officials allocate specific funds for the ranches, so the alleged violation amounts to a discretionary action by the executive branch and may not be challenged by taxpayers.
Judge's Ruling (pdf)
A state-funded fundamentalist Christian prison ministry program ("God pod") in a women's prison in Grants, N.M., was challenged in federal court by the Freedom From Religion Foundation on Nov. 7, 2005. New Mexico contracts with Corrections Corporation of America, also named as a defendant, which is the nation's largest private provider of prison services. CCA partners with the Chicago-based Institute in Basic Life Principles, a fundamentalist Christian ministry run by Christian reconstructionist Bill Gothard "for the purpose of introducing people to the Lord Jesus Christ." Women prisoners are given proselytizing workbooks training them to "submit" to male authority. CCA plans to "franchise" the Christian program in prisons. Read press release.
One of the first casualties of Hein v. FFRF was FFRF's strong lawsuit against the State of New Mexico for establishing an outrageous Christian dominionist "God pod" in a women's prison in Grants, N.M. FFRF withdrew the lawsuit in July 2007, after the judge said he would rule against the right of FFRF's state taxpayers to sue. FFRF hopes to challenge religion programs funded by tax dollars in prisons with prisoner plaintiffs in the future.
Details on Unconstitutional "Faith Pod"
Hein v. FFRF. In June 2004, the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed the first lawsuit to challenge the creation of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, as well as eight Cabinet-level "offices of faith-based initiatives." The Foundation alleged that conferences arranged by the White House office resemble revival meetings, and demonstrate government preference for funding religious social service agencies. The lawsuit alleged that the Departments of Education, Labor, Justice, and Health and Human Services have shown preference in funding religious organizations, and that many intermediary groups receiving federal funding do likewise.
The case is the Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Jim Towney, et al., 04 C 03981, U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin, Judge John Shabaz.
U.S. District Court Judge John C. Shabaz, ruled on Nov. 12, 2004, that taxpayers do not have standing to challenge executive branch officials who engage in constitutionally suspect activities funded by general Congressional budget appropriations. Bush created the faith-based initiative by executive order. Shabaz permitted the rest of the lawsuit to continue, which included the Foundation's challenge of federal funding of MentorKids USA and to Emory University "to support faith-based community health programs." (See below)
On March 9, 2005, the Foundation asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit to reinstate its legal challenge of the creation of the White House and other federal "faith-based" offices. On Jan. 13, 2006, a 7th Circuit panel, in a 2-1 decision, reinstated the Foundation's challenge, finding that taxpayers have a right under Art. III of the Constitution to sue over a violation of the First Amendment Establishment Clause, even if Congress did not specifically earmark money for the challenged program or activity.
"Taxpayers have standing to challenge an executive-branch program, alleged to promote religion, that is financed by a Congressional appropriation, even if the program was created entirely within the executive branch, as by presidential executive order," wrote Judge Richard A. Posner, joined by Judge Diane P. Wood.
The 11-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago voted 7-4 not to rehear the question of standing in the Freedom From Religion Foundation's federal lawsuit challenging creation of federal faith-based offices. This technical victory for the Foundation allowed the lawsuit to continue.
Read the Foundation's news release
The Administration appealed the Foundation's right to sue to the highest court. The U.S. Supreme Court, on Dec. 1, 2006, agreed to hear the Bush Administration's appeal of the reinstatement of taxpayer standing for the Foundation plaintiffs. Oral arguments were held on Feb. 28, 2007. At issue was whether the Foundation's taxpayer plaintiffs--co-presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, along with FFRF president emerita Anne Nicol Gaylor--have standing to sue over the creation of the faith-based offices. The Foundation notes that two of the three Supreme Court cases on the question of taxpayer standing to sue the executive branch over actions which violate the Establishment clause are in its favor. The case is now titled Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Read the news release and pdf files of the Foundation's briefs before both the U.S. 7th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court decision came down on June 25, 2007. Although FFRF lost its right to sue the executive branch over the creation of faith-based offices at the White House and Cabinets in Hein v. FFRF, FFRF did win the plurality opinion, as The Los Angeles Times pointed out. FFRF had 4 justices solidly in our camp, whereas the bloc of 5 Roman Catholic judges against us-Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy-was divided. Although Kennedy, the swing vote, defected to the majority on FFRF's right to sue, he refused to vote to outright overturn the precedent of Flast v. Cohen, which permits taxpayers to sue over Congressional actions which violate the separation of church and state. The Hein decision says federal taxpayers do not have the right to challenge executive branch violations not explicitly authorized by the legislative branch. The unjust decision means our country has a constitutional separation between church and state, but no way to enforce it in this and many other instances. The punchy dissent, written by Justice Souter and signed by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Stevens, noted: "If the Executive could accomplish through the exercise of discretion exactly what Congress cannot do through legislation, Establishment Clause protection would melt away." The Establishment Clause is in for a rough ride in the Roberts Court.
Background Information on Hein v. FFRF
- Read Supreme Court Decision (pdf)
- Read the dissenting opinion (pdf)
- FFRF Brief to the U.S. Supreme Court (pdf)
- Supreme Court oral argument transcript (pdf)
- 7th Circuit decision (pdf)
Amicus Briefs in Support of FFRF
- Americans United with the ACLU, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, People for the American Way and Anti-Defamation League amicus brief (PDF)
- Center for Free Inquiry/Center for Secular Humanism amicus brief (pdf)
- American Atheists amicus brief (pdf)
- Historians and Legal Scholars amicus brief (pdf)
- American Jewish Congress & American Jewish Committee friend of the court brief (pdf)
- Supreme Court Faith-based Case Briefed; Oral Arguments Feb. 28, February 2, 2007
- Supreme Court Accepts Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, December 4, 2006
- Chicago Appeals Court Upholds FFRF's Right to Sue over Federal Faith-based Office, January 16, 2006
- Landmark Decision: Health & Human Services Ordered to "Vacate" Faith-based Funding of MentorKids USA, Jan. 15, 2005
- U.S. District Court Ruling, Jan. 11, 2005
- Watchdog Freedom From Religion Foundation Challenges HHS Faith-based Grant to Emory University, Jan. 3, 2005
- Freethought Watchdog Group Sues over HHS Funding of Arizona Faith-based Mentoring Program in First-of-its-Kind Legal Challenge, Nov. 26, 2004
- Brief in Opposition (PDF)
- Hein Reply Brief (PDF)
- Answer Opposing Petition on Rehearing (PDF)
- Reply Brief of Appellants (PDF)
- Appellants' Brief (PDF)
- Reply Brief for the Petitioners (PDF)
- Petition for a Writ of Certiorari (Petitioners) (PDF)
- Amicus brief by Indiana and 11 other states in Hein v. FFRF (PDF)
- Brief Amicus Curiae of the Christian Legal Society in Support of Petitioners (PDF)
- ACLJ Urges Supreme Court to End Special Privileges for Church-State Separationist Taxpayer Plaintiffs
The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit April 19, 2006, in federal court, challenging the pervasive integration of "spirituality" into health care by the Department of Veteran Affairs. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin, names VA Secretary R. James Nicholson; Undersecretary for Health Jonathan Perlin, M.D.; Hugh Maddry, director, and A. Keith Ethridge,deputy director, of the National Chaplain Center; and Jeni Cook, program manager of the Spiritual Health Initiative.
The lawsuit alleges that the Veterans Health Administration, the nation's largest integrated health system, "has deeply committed to integrate faith, spirituality and religion into the substantive protocol of its medical treatments," in a manner which unconstitutionally promotes, advances and endorses religion.
The complaint observes that the VA now "provides pastoral services not as an accommodation to veteran's free exercise rights" but because it "deems pastoral services for all patients, including veterans receiving outpatient medical services, to be a necessary part of medical treatment." The VA encourages all patients "to tap into their alleged spiritual resources of faith," with VA chaplains involved as "part of the treatment team for all patients." The VA now plugs in chaplains to outpatients (making up 80% of patients) whose religious needs do not require special accommodation.
Read the legal complaint in full for FFRF v Department of Veterans Affairs (Case No. 06C0212S)
Read the initial news release
In September 2006, Judge Shabaz ruled against a VA motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which contended FFRF had no legitimate Establishment Clause claim. Shabaz ruled that if the facts are as alleged, there is merit in the lawsuit and it may proceed. Read the news release, which contains a link to the judge's Memorandum.
Judge John Shabaz ruled on Jan. 8, 2007, that the integration of religion and "spirituality" into all aspects of medical care is permissible because it is ostensibly "voluntary." The Foundation, which contends coercion is not necessary to show an Establishment Clause violation, appealed the decision to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The government asked to stay the case pending the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in FFRF v. Hein, deciding whether citizens have standing to sue over so-called discretionary spending that violates the Establishment Clause by the Executive Branch. This stay was granted, despite the fact that standing was never raised as an issue at the district court level and had not been contested.
Read the District Court decision - FFRF v. Nicholson, 06-C-212-S (pdf)
Read FFRF News Release on lower court decision
The government's motion to stay the appeal, pending the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hein v. FFRF, was granted by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
FFRF VA Appeal Brief, April 2, 2007 (PDF)
Motion to Stay Appeal/Government Affidavit/Stay Order by 7th Circuit (PDF)
Brief of Appellants & Appendix (PDF)
Appeals Court reply, Nov. 16, 2007 (PDF)
Oral arguments were heard in January 2008.
Emory University received a $1.5 million federal grant from Health and Human Service, announced in October 2002, to support faith-based community health programs across the country. Emory's Interfaith Health Program (IHP) disbursed $900,000 of its public grant to nine "religious health conversion" foundations, who in turn were charged with awarding subgrants. The grant application stated that "subawards will be granted to 49 faith-based organizations." At the point of the legal challenge, at least 80% of subgrants had gone to religious agencies.The Emory grant application identified religious goals such as the improvement of "government/FBO collaborations." Emory admitted in correspondence with HHS that "some of the Foundations exercise a preference in their private grant making for competent applications which reflect their own religious heritage." On January 11, 2005 (as the Foundation's attorney was at Emory taking depositions), Shabaz ruled the Foundation had not proved the funding was unconstitutionally favoring religion. In the same decision, Shabaz ruled in favor of the Foundation's challenge of federal funding of MentorKids USA.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation went to federal court in Missouri to sue over the phrase "So help me, God" on tax forms, on behalf of a plaintiff in Christian County in 1998. The case was dismissed from federal court since it concerned taxes. The Foundation refiled in state court in 1999. In April 2001, the judge ruled against the Foundation, but ordered that the plaintiff or other citizens be allowed to cross out "So help me God."
In January 1996, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued over the removal of its properly-placed banner, "State/Church: Keep Them Separate," from the rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol, at the orders of Gov. Tommy Thompson. The Foundation had obtained a lawful permit to place the sign to counter various seasonal promotions of religion at the State Capitol. The Foundation lost at the federal court level in 1996. However, the State regulations now permit moderate-sized signs.
The Foundation has erected a Winter Solstice sign every year since, which has been called a "tourist attraction."