Ruling has 'Quick and Dramatic' Impact on Church-State Cases

November 8, 2007

Source: The Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) A months-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling quickly weakened the ability of taxpayers to sue government for violating the separation of church and state, legal experts say.

The court ruled in June that taxpayers could not sue over executive branch spending that allegedly promoted religion. The 5-4 decision dismissed a lawsuit by the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation that challenged President Bush's faith-based initiative.

Taxpayers only have the standing to sue when Congress specifically authorizes money for religious purposes, Justice Samuel Alito wrote. Otherwise, courts would be clogged with cases complaining about the day-to-day activities of government employees, he wrote.

At the time, advocates for the separation of church and state said the ruling's impact would be limited. But less than six months later, legal observers are startled by the fallout in cases claiming violations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government-sponsored religion.