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The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, 06-157, where the court must decide whether taxpayers have standing under Article III of the Constitution to challenge federal support for "faith-based" religious initiatives. The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFR) sued US Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, complaining that government funds should not be used to promote President Bush’s Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. After the district court held that FFR did not have standing to sue and dismissed the case, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled in January 2006 that taxpayers have standing to challenge a program created by a Presidential executive order, alleged to promote religion, and which is financed by a congressional appropriation.

On Wednesday, Justice Breyer questioned a White House lawyer on whether a taxpayer would be able to challenge a law in which Congress sets up a church at Plymouth Rock. Justice Scalia took the opposite stance and asked a lawyer for FFR whether taxpayers would be able to sue over the use of security money for a presidential trip in which religion was discussed.

The outcome of the case may depend on a 1968 Supreme Court decision which created an exception to the general prohibition on taxpayer challenges to the government spending of tax revenue. In that case, Board of Education v. Allen, the Court allowed taxpayers to challenge congressional spending for private religious schools.


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