Court ruling allows challenge to Bush’s faith initiative


    A group can sue the federal government over claims that President
    Bush’s faith-based initiative is an unconstitutional endorsement of
    religion, a federal appeals court ruled.

    A three-judge panel of
    the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday reinstated the lawsuit
    brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The group claims
    Bush’s program, which helps religious organizations get government
    funding to provide social services, violates the separation of church
    and state.

    “Bush says this is constitutional, but it’s never been
    tried by the courts. So we’re pleased,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor,
    co-president of the foundation, said Saturday.

    Bush sidestepped
    Congress by issuing executive orders to create the White House Office
    of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and similar centers in 10
    federal agencies during his first term. He said the goal was to help
    religious and community groups compete for federal funding to fight
    poverty, substance abuse and other social problems.

    The
    Madison-based foundation filed suit against the administration in 2004.
    A federal district judge dismissed the case, ruling that taxpayers have
    no standing to challenge funding appropriations made by the executive
    branch, only those earmarked for specific purposes by Congress.

    But
    the appeals panel, based in Chicago, said taxpayers can challenge
    executive-branch programs that allegedly promote religion using
    taxpayer funds.

    George Washington University law professor Ira C.
    Lupu said the case is the broadest national challenge to Bush’s
    initiative, but the group faces an uphill battle proving it is
    unconstitutional.

    Messages left at the White House’s faith-based
    office and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Madison were not immediately
    returned Saturday. The government could ask the full appeals court to
    rehear the case or appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.