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Entries in Establishment Clause (2)

Monday
Apr042011

Supreme Court Upholds Tax Credits for Donations to Religious Non-Profits

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A sharply divided Supreme Court on Monday found that Arizona taxpayers do not have the legal right to challenge a state law that allows residents to receive tax credits for contributions to non-profit organizations . The law allows those non-profit organizations to use the funds to give scholarships to children who want to attend private schools.

The taxpayers had challenged the law arguing that in practice the non-profit groups only provided aid to students attending religious schools in violation of the Constitution. The Establishment Clause of the Constitution prohibits government actions from favoring one religion over another.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by the four conservative justices, said that taxpayers only have the so-called "legal standing" to bring such a suit if it involves a government expenditure, not a tax credit.

The Arizona legislature passed the law in 1997 to encourage greater educational choice for disadvantaged elementary school children. Any taxpayer can participate, but parents are forbidden from earmarking a donation for their child.

Because the court found that the taxpayers could not bring the suit, it did not reach a decision on whether the law itself is constitutional.

Monday’s decision will narrow the ability for taxpayers in general to challenge alleged Establishment Clause violations. A number of other states have programs like Arizona.

"This is a big deal because it permits the government to aid religious causes through the tax credit device without fear of any litigation that might disturb the government policy," says Ira. C. Lupu, an expert on church and state issues at George Washington Law School.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jan042011

Mount Soledad Cross Violates the Constitution, Says Federal Court

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(SAN DIEGO) -- A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a 43-foot-tall cross that sits atop Mount Soledad in La Jolla, California violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
 
In a 50-page opinion, a unanimous three judge panel found “after examining the entirety of the Mount Soledad Memorial in context -- having considered its history, its religious and non-religious uses, its sectarian and secular features, the history of war memorials and the dominance of the Cross -- we conclude that the Memorial, presently configured and as a whole, primarily conveys a message of government endorsement of religion.”
 
The cross, which weighs approximately 24 tons, is visible for miles away and overlooks a popular interstate. It was built in 1913 and then blew down in 1952. The current cross was erected in 1954 and was a memorial to American service members and a tribute to God’s “promise of everlasting life.”
 
The case had generated controversy for over 20 years, during which time state and federal courts had considered its fate. The cross stood for many years on city property, but in 2005, it  was designated a national veteran’s memorial and was transferred to federal property. Over the years the memorial has been expanded and now also features 2,100 black stone plaques honoring fallen soldiers.
 
The Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, joined by several residents of San Diego and represented by the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit arguing that the cross, sitting on federal land, sent a message of government endorsement of religion.
 
On Tuesday the court recognized the controversy regarding the prominent public memorial and said, “We believe that no broadly applauded resolution is possible because this case represents the difficult and intractable intersection of religion, patriotism, and the Constitution.”
 
Judge M. Margaret McKeown, writing for the panel, sent the case back to the lower court to decide whether the memorial could be modified to pass constitutional muster. There had been a suggestion by some to transfer the cross itself to nearby private property on a church.
 
“This is a clear victory for the plaintiffs and for religious liberty. The court unanimously concluded that in displaying this giant sectarian symbol the government sends an unconstitutional message of religious favoritism,” said Daniel Mach the Director of the ACLU’s Freedom of Religion and Belief.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio