Council for Secular Humanism Wins Victory in Case Challenging Faith-Based Prison Programs

December 15, 2009

The Council for Secular Humanism today won an important victory in its case challenging the use of Florida taxpayer dollars for faith-based substance abuse transitional housing programs in Florida prisons. CSH alleges that the faith-based component of the taxpayer-funded programs include Christian religious indoctrination. The decision by the Florida First District Court of Appeal reversed a lower court ruling that dismissed CSH's lawsuit entirely.  The case, titled Council for Secular Humanism v. McNeil , may now proceed to discovery and trial before the lower court.

CSH and co-plaintiffs Richard and Elaine Hull initially filed suit in Leon County Circuit Court challenging the legality of statutes authorizing government payments to faith-based organizations for social services.  The two faith-based organizations in question, Prisoners of Christ, Inc. and Lamb of God Ministries, Inc., have contracted with the Florida Department of Corrections to provide faith-based services to individuals with substance abuse problems. Richard and Elaine Hull, two associate members of CSH, are Tallahassee residents and Florida taxpayers.

CSH based its complaint on the Florida Constitution, not the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. CSH made a deliberate decision to seek relief under the Florida Constitution, because it has a very broad prohibition on aid to religious institutions.   Specifically, the "No-Aid" provision of the Florida Constitution expressly mandates that no revenue of the statue can be provided "directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."

In September 2008, the trial court dismissed CSH's suit by granting the defendants' motions for judgments on the pleadings. With the two individual plaintiffs, CSH appealed the trial court's decision.

Today the appellate court ruled that CSH had properly alleged a cause of action that the Florida statutes authorizing payments to the defendants violate the No-Aid provision of the Florida constitution. The court found that the trial court was wrong to prevent CSH's claim from going to trial, because CSH alleged "that not only are Prisoners and Lamb of God sectarian institutions, but the programs themselves are fundamentally carried out in a sectarian manner in violation of [the Florida constitution]. . . . It is only after the facts are developed with respect to the purpose and effect of the faith-based programs which are the subject of this action that these arguments can be addressed definitively."

The appellate court upheld the lower court's dismissal of another claim challenging the requirement that transition housing specialists consult with chaplains regarding inmate placement in the faith-based programs. The appellate court also dismissed CSH's claim challenging the specific contracts between the state department of corrections and the faith-based institutions, finding that CSH lacked taxpayer standing to bring that claim. The court stated, however, that this "will be a minor consequence," because that claim is "essentially subsumed under" CSH's challenge of the statutes authorizing payments to the defendants. As the appellate court noted, "the trial court will necessarily be required to examine the contracts" to determine whether the statutes violate the Florida constitution.

This decision is an important win for the Council for Secular Humanism and for all defenders of religious liberty and the separation of church and state.  By bringing this case, the Council for Secular Humanism is protecting the religious liberty of all Americans, whether religious or secular.  No one should be compelled to subsidize any religion with their tax dollars.

Click here for more information and access to CSH's court filings.

Comments:

#1 Tim McElligott (Guest) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 at 4:01pm

Congratulations CSH. Thanks for your vigilance. Keep up the good fight.

#2 jminnis on Thursday December 17, 2009 at 8:39am

Good work. Someone may also want to look at some of the maga church schools prevalent in Florida…..

#3 jminnis on Thursday December 17, 2009 at 8:40am

.....make that “mega” church schools…..

#4 Paul Diamond (Guest) on Thursday December 17, 2009 at 10:17am

Next is to remove tax exempt status from churches that engage in political action. Then go after tax exemptions for church owned property that is not used specifically for religious purposes.
Good job.
~;^}>

#5 C. Rosenblatt (Guest) on Thursday December 17, 2009 at 11:39pm

Go CFI. Wehave too much influence by Church groups in our lives. Separation of Church and state. Rah!!!!!!

#6 C. Rosenblatt (Guest) on Thursday December 17, 2009 at 11:42pm

Go CFI. Too much Church influence in our secular lives already. Keep fighting for separation. Rah !!!

#7 Paul Diamond (Guest) on Friday December 18, 2009 at 2:40pm

We know about seperation of Church ahd state. However, we must make people in this country aware that not only Our Constitution but the supreme law of the land protects us from religion. Freadom of religion was an afterthought.
First there is no mention of god, devine providence, or any particular religion anywhere in our Constitution.
Then Article VI of our Constitution that states,”...The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Not the federal government but the whole United States.
In addition the 1st Amendment states,“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,(and,Oh yeah) or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
Also, Article IV of Our Constitution states, “...all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land…”
The Treaty of Tripoli, of 1797. Sent to the floor of the Senate, June 7, 1797, where it was read aloud in its entirety and unanimously approved(no dissent, no objection, no abstentions). John Adams(A leader of the American Revolution, representative from Massachusetts to the 1st Continental Congress, 2nd president of the United Statesand a coauthor of the Declaration of Independance one of our leading founding fathers to be sure), having seen the treaty, signed it and proudly proclaimed it to the Nation.

Treaty Of Tripoli, Art. 11. “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion
It is the Supreme law of the land. America is officially NOT a christian nation!
~;^}>

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