FFRF Appeals to 7th Circuit over Right to Challenge Creation of White House “Faith-based” Office

Foundation Contests Decision Barring Judicial Scrutiny of Unconstitutional Actions by Executive Branch

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis.-based national state/church watchdog group that has taken the lead in successful challenges of the “faith-based initiative,” is asking 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.

A federal judge ruled on Nov. 12 that taxpayers do not have standing to challenge executive branch officials who engage in constitutionally suspect activities funded by general Congressional budget appropriations.

U.S. District Court Judge John C. Shabaz, of the Western District of Wisconsin, ruled that the Foundation’s individual plaintiffs–staff members Anne Nicol Gaylor, Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor–do not have taxpayer standing to sue over the faith-based offices because Congress did not enact them. Bush created the faith-based initiative by executive orders.

The broad-based challenge filed on June 17, 2004, named as defendants Jim Towey, head of the White House faith-based office, and several of the “faith czars” who run faith-based offices at the Cabinet level.

“The dismissal of our standing places the president’s executive action to create faith-based funding programs above judicial scrutiny. It denies legal recourse to the taxpayers who are forced to support these unconstitutional programs,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, one of the individual plaintiffs, and co-president of the Foundation.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by supporting activities endorsing religion and by granting faith-based organizations “preferred positions as political insiders.”

The Foundation has taken and won more faith-based court challenges than any other group.

Its victories to date include: a federal win in 2002 ending direct funding of a pervasively sectarian group, Faith Works in Milwaukee, a group which had been endorsed by George W. Bush; its win last October in federal court in Montana ending a “parish nursing” faith-based funding scheme; and its January landmark victory, in which a court for the first time vacated funding by Health and Human Services of a faith-based program, Mentorkids USA, an exclusively Christian mentoring program in Phoenix. HSS is not appealing the Jan. 11 order by Judge Shabaz to vacate public funding of the offshoot of Chuck Colson’s prison ministry.

The brief was filed on March 9, 2005.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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