Key Supreme Cases for ’06 – ’07

10 10 2006

Filed under: Supreme Court, Church and State, First Amendment


The Supreme Court hasn’t finalized its 2006-2007 docket yet, but there are four critical cases to Church-state issues that I would like to highlight and look forward to hearing favorable decisions on:

1.) Christian Civic League (CCL) of Maine v. Federal Election Commission (FEC): In March 2006, CCL brought suit against the FEC, claiming that the agency’s application of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002 violates the First Amendment. The FEC blocked CCL’s plans to run a radio “issue ad” that stressed the importance of protecting traditional marriage because the ad named Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who was a candidate up for reelection in the GOP’s June primary.

BCRA prohibits issue ads that mention the name of a candidate within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. CCL argues that its issue ad had nothing to do with Snowe’s campaign. The CCL suit “is being brought by people who are running legitimate issue ads, but are not allowed to tell people who to call for action because that person is up for election,” Weber said.

2.) Evans v. City of Berkeley: The Berkeley Sea Scouts, a multi-ethnic group that includes youth from all economic backgrounds, for more than 50 years has taught area kids sailing and seamanship. The group enjoys an affiliation with the Boy Scouts, a relationship that the city of Berkeley demanded that the Sea Scouts end in 1998, citing the Boy Scouts’ “discriminatory” stance on homosexuality. When the Sea Scouts refused to do so, the city rescinded free berthing privileges, resulting in a financial hit to the group of $500 per month.

In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Boy Scouts’ right to “expressive association,” to pattern its membership according to its own moral code. “Berkeley’s position is, yes, you’ve got that right but we’re going to penalize you for it,” Weber said. “The implications are enormous because [a decision favoring the city] would transfer religious exercise into the legal equivalent of racism.”

3.) Anderson v. Durham School Dept.: Since 1879, the state has paid tuition for Maine children to attend a public or private school of their choice when their small town did not have a public school of its own. For the first century, students could even attend religious institutions. But the state’s attorney general nixed that in 1980, saying the policy violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause.

Parents now are challenging that action, arguing that the state doesn’t have reasonable First Amendment grounds to discriminate against religious schools. If the Supreme Court takes the case and agrees with the plaintiffs, the ruling could further solidify the right of parents to use publicly funded vouchers at religious institutions.

4.) Grace v. Freedom from Religion Foundation: In June 2004 the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FRF) filed the first lawsuit that challenged the creation of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. FRF argued that President Bush, in using general appropriations to fund the faith-based initiative, had violated the establishment clause. In Grace, the district court ruled that FRF taxpayers could not sue the executive branch, but the 7th Circuit reversed the decision. The pending Supreme Court appeal seeks to stop FRF’s case from proceeding in the lower court.

If the high court declines review, the future of the Bush administration’s faith-based initiative—and any government spending perceived to benefit a faith-based group—could hang in the balance.




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