Who Can Challenge God.gov? The Supreme Judicial Beings Will Decide

According to the New York Times, this term the Supreme Court will decide who, if anyone, may challenge the activities of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.  When there’s a claim of unconstitutional governmental support of religion, judicial review is usually good news–but this time the Supreme Court took the case when the Bush Administration challenged a lower court’s decision that the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives (or, if you prefer, "God.gov") would have to submit to scrutiny of its activities.

Translated from the original legalese, this means that the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a group opposed to church-state intertwining, will now fight in the Supreme Court for its right to present that opposition in a trial.  That right, known as standing to sue, belongs only to those directly harmed by the conduct complained of.  So, whaddya think: who is directly harmed by violations of the separation of church and state?  All of us, of course–but at law as in other contexts, everybody’s business is nobody’s business.  If your group isn’t harmed more than any other by the policy of holding special training meetings for faith-based groups so they can secure grant support for which you’re ineligible, are you allowed to challenge the policy in court?  And if we’re all harmed equally, does that mean none of us is harmed? 

A Federal district court denied the Foundation had standing to pursue the case.  The Federal appeals court did not agree, and told the Foundation to go right ahead–whereupon the Administration appealed to the Supreme Court.

A cynical observer (jaded, moi?) might suspect the Supreme Court took the case simply so it could overturn the appellate court and slam the door permanently on private citizen challenges to God.gov.  But it may be that the Court genuinely took the case to clarify what role the government may play in faith-based groups and vice versa; and a little clarity in this area would–or could–make a nice change.


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