Florida Supreme Court Denies Review of Council for Secular Humanism v. McNeil

July 13, 2010

The Florida Supreme Court on July 8 denied the defendants’ motion seeking 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 Center for Inquiry is a supporting organization of the Council.)

The Council, along with co-plaintiffs Richard and Elaine Hull,   initially filed suit in Leon County Circuit Court in May 2007 challenging the legality of state laws authorizing government payments to faith-based organizations for social services. The specific payments in question are being made to two faith-based organizations, Prisoners of Christ, Inc. and Lamb of God Ministries, Inc., which are under contract 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 challenge on the Florida Constitution, which includes a “No-Aid” provision mandating that no revenue of the state be provided “directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”

In December 2009, a three-judge panel of the Florida First District Court of Appeal unanimously reversed a lower court ruling that dismissed the Council’s lawsuit. 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. This latest decision from the state Supreme Court denying that appeal has finally cleared the way for the case to proceed to trial.

“The Council intends to litigate the case to completion,” said   Derek C. Araujo , director of the Council’s legal programs.  “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.”

Ronald A. Lindsay, president & CEO of the Council and CFI, added, “We are confident the evidence at trial will establish that state funds are being used to support the efforts of Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God Ministries to advance and promote their religious views.”