Florida Supreme Court Denies Review of Council for Secular Humanism Legal Victory
July 9, 2010
The Florida Supreme Court yesterday denied the defendant's motion for review of the Council for Secular Humanism's recent appellate court victory in Council for Secular Humanism v. McNeil , a case challenging the use of Florida taxpayer dollars for faith-based substance abuse transitional housing programs in Florida prisons.
The Council 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 Council alleges that the faith-based component of the taxpayer-funded prison drug rehabilitation programs include illegal Christian religious indoctrination.
In December 2009, three-judge panel of the Florida First District Court of Appeal unanimously reversed a lower court ruling that dismissed the Council's lawsuit entirely. After years of legal wrangling and expensive litigation costs, the panel's decision cleared the way for the case to proceed to discovery and trial before the lower court.
The defendants in the case immediately appealed the appellate court panel's decision, asking the Florida Supreme Court to decide the issues in the case. The state Supreme Court's decision yesterday denied that appeal, finally clearing the way for the case to proceed to trial.
As I explained in previous blogs about this case, the Council filed suit to challenge 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 the Council, are Tallahassee residents and Florida taxpayers.
The Council based its complaint on the Florida Constitution, not the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. The Council 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 state can be provided "directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."
The Council intends to litigate the case to completion. The Council's case will be an important test of state courts' willingness to enforce "No-Aid" provisions in state constitutions. More than half the states have "no-aid" provisions similar to Florida's in their constitutions.
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