ARL Goes to Court
In its quarter century of activism in defense of church-state separation
and freedom of conscience, Americans for Religious Liberty has been involved in over
60 actions in the courts. Following is a concise summary of that work.
This action has generally involved participating in or originating
amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs to the U.S.
Supreme Court and lower courts. Usually, in the interest of economy and because
the Court prefers not to have to deal with duplicative briefs, where possible
ARL has worked with other organizations in coalition briefs.
Americans for Religious Liberty is grateful to all of the mostly
pro bono attorneys and organizations with which we have
collaborated for so many years.
These briefs are divided into several types of cases (e.g., government
aid to religious institutions, reproductive rights, etc.) The dates of the briefs
refer to the Supreme Court's terms, which begin in October of every year.
One of our most important cases, in which ARL played an important
role, Lamont v. Woods, did not reach the Supreme Court
but was settled in the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on
September 26, 1991. Unfortunately, the case received almost no media attention.
It involved a challenge to U.S. government aid to faith-based schools in other
countries. Between 1983 and 1989 the U.S. Agency for International Development
(USAID) distributed more than $14 million to faith-based schools in the
Philippines, Egypt, Israel, Jamaica, South Korea, and Micronesia.
The suit was a cooperative effort with the American Civil
Liberties Union. ACLU provided the attorney, Professor Herman Schwartz of
American University, while ARL provided the plaintiffs in New York: philosopher
Corliss Lamont, writer Isaac Asimov, Rabbi Balfour Brickner, the Rev. Bruce
Southworth, and church-state separation activists Florence Flast and Nina
Second Circuit Chief Judge James L. Oakes wrote in his opinion
that, "Where the expenditure of federal tax money is concerned, there can be
no distinction between foreign religious institutions and domestic religious
institutions - particularly when the former are sponsored and supported by
the latter. Religions such as Catholicism and Judaism know no national
boundaries, and are strengthened domestically when promoted abroad. Given
the primacy of the tax factor in the minds of the Framers, we cannot but
conclude that Madison, Jefferson, or any of the supporters of the
Establishment Clause would have abhorred - as much as a tax for the
support of Christian teachers - the use of federal tax money for the
support of foreign sectarian schools."
The ruling added that "recent history supports the view
that the religion clauses do have extraterritorial application."
Further, "The expenditure of tax dollars for the support of religious
institutions or activities offends the 'no taxation' principle regardless
of the physical situs of those institutions or activities. Likewise, the
message communicated by direct government funding of religious institutions
remains the same whether those institutions are located in the United States
In rejecting a central argument put forth by the George H.W.
Bush administration, that foreign policy matters are beyond constitutional
scrutiny, the court held that "While we recognize the importance of
foreign aid programs in promoting United States foreign policy, we do
not believe that this warrants freeing all foreign aid programs from all
In a concurring opinion, Judge John M. Walker, Jr., observed
that "The text of the First Amendment's limitation on Congress'
competency to act in regard to religion bears no construction that confines
its operation to the United States."
Lamont v. Woods never reached the
Supreme Court because the Bush administration decided not to appeal.
Nonetheless, the ruling stands as an important but little noticed precedent.
(Note: Before ARL was founded in 1982, ARL's Doerr and Menendez
were involved in a number of important church-state cases while working for
another organization. Among those cases were Lemon v. Kurtzman,
the first successful Supreme Court challenge to tax aid to faith-based schools
(1971); Malnak v. Yogi, a successful challenge to the
promotion of Transcendental Meditation, with its hidden religious content,
in New Jersey public schools; and a challenge to forced "deprogramming"
of adults in Maryland.)
Free Exercise of Religion
2005. Gonzales v. O
Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal. ("May the Government
satisfy the 'compelling interest/least restrictive alternative' standard
that Congress enacted in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act simply by
asserting, without case-specific evidentiary support, a compelling interest
in the uniform enforcement of the law, and then arguing, tautologically,
that a policy of denying any religious exemptions is the least restrictive
means of furthering that interest?")
2005. Cutter v.
Wilkinson. (Free exercise rights of prisoners.)
2005. Gonzales v.
State of Oregon. (Defense of Oregon's physician-assisted suicide
1996. Vacco v.
Quill ("The right of a competent, terminally ill individual to end
his or her life with the aid of a physician. . . .")
Religion in Public Schools
1997. Bauchman v. West
High School. (Challenge to religious proselytizing in public school.)
1996. Chauduri v. State
of Tennessee. (Graduation prayers at Tennessee State University.)
1994. Ingebretsen v.
Jackson Public School District. (Prayer at school events.)
1990. Lee v. Weisman.
(Challenge to religious exercise in public school.)
1989. Board of Education
of the Westside Community Schools v. Mergens. (Challenge to the "Equal
Access Act . . . requiring Westside High School to recognize and sponsor a
Christian prayer club.")
1988. Barry v. Slaughter.
(Challenge to graduation prayers at University of Maryland.)
1988. Virgil v. School
Board of Columbia County, Florida. (Textbook censorship.)
1987. Smith v. Commissioners
of Mobile County. (Prayer in public schools.)
1987. Mozert v. Hawkins
County Public Schools. (Religious opposition to certain textbooks.)
1986. Edwards v.
Aguillard. (Challenge to Louisiana law promoting "creationism" in
1986. Edwards v.
Aguillard. (Brief of 72 Nobel laureates and other scientists. Although
ARL's name is not on the brief, it was ARL's idea to have Nobel laureates
sign a brief challenging the Louisiana "creationism" law.)
1985. Bender v.
Williamsport. (Challenge to "equal access law.")
Religious Displays in Government Buildings
2004. Van Orden v.
Perry. (Challenge to Ten Commandments display at Texas state capitol
Society v. Chester County. (Ten Commandments display in courthouse.)
1994. Capitol Square Review
and Advisory Board v. Pinette. (Challenge to placement of religious
displays on Ohio State House grounds.)
1987. American Jewish
Congress v. City of Chicago. (Challenge to city hall Nativity display.)
2005. Scheidler v. National
Organization for Women. ("Whether the Hobbs Act prohibits acts or
threats of physical violence that obstruct, delay or affect interstate commerce;
Whether RICO authorizes the district courts to grant injunctive relief in private
2005. Ayotte v. Planned
Parenthood of Northern New England. (Challenging lack of health exception
in a New Hampshire law restricting reproductive rights.)
2001. Bost v. Low Income
Women of Texas. (Challenge to Texas restrictions on Medicaid funding for
2000. Stenberg v.
Carhart. (Challenge to Nebraska's so-called "partial-birth"
1993. Madsen v. Women's
Health Center. ("Whether, in the context of a pattern of illegal conduct
and violations of previous injunctions, a court may constitutionally impose
specific time, place and manner restrictions on individuals and organizations
and those acting in concert with them to prohibit blocking access to a medical
facility, harassing the facility's patients and staff, engaging in activities
that threaten patients' health, and harassing and picketing staff members at
1990. Rust v.
Sullivan. (Challenge to gag rule on discussing abortion in federally
aided family planning facilities.)
1990. In re: AC.
(Are fetal rights superior to those of persons already born?)
1989. Turnock v.
Ragsdale. (Defense of rights of clinics and doctors.)
1989. Hodgson v.
Minnesota. (Challenge to abortion rights restrictions.)
1989. Ohio v.
Akron Center for Reproductive Health. (Challenge to abortion
1988. Webster v.
Reproductive Health Services. (Though not formally listed on this
brief, ARL originated the brief representing twelve Nobel laureates and
155 other distinguished scientists in defense of reproductive choice.
The brief challenges the anti-choice position that human personhood begins
as early as conception. NOW said that this brief might well be "the most
powerful brief" submitted in this case.)
1988. Webster v.
Reproductive Health Services. (Coalition brief challenging Missouri
restrictions on abortion rights.)
1988. Massachusetts v.
Bowen. (Challenge to federal restrictions on reproductive rights.)
Women's Center v. McMonagle. (Defense of women's clinics for
RICO Act violation.)
1985. Thornburgh v.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (Reproductive
rights in Pennsylvania.)
1985. Diamond v.
Charles. (Abortion rights in Illinois.)
Tax Aid to Faith-Based Schools
2004-2005. Bush v.
Holmes. (Successful challenge to Florida school voucher plan. Florida
Supreme Court ruled the plan unconstitutional on January 5, 2006.)
2001. Zelman v.
Simmons-Harris. (Challenge to Ohio school voucher plan.)
1999. Mitchell v.
Helms. (Challenge to tax aid to religious schools in Louisiana.)
1996. Agostini v.
Felton. (Challenge to tax aid to faith-based schools in New York.)
University v. Steele; Americans for Religious
Liberty. (Challenge to municipal bonds to aid a pervasively
1993. Board of
Education of the Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet.
(Challenge to "the constitutionality of vesting the power to operate
a public school district in a municipality that functions as a religious
1992. Zobrest v.
Catalina Foot Hills School District. ("Whether [Federal
Regulation] C.F.R. § 76.532(a) prohibits the government from paying
for the sign language interpreter requested by the Petitioners
1990. Pulido v.
Cavazos. (Challenge to tax-paid services to faith-based schools.)
Fair Housing Commission v. New York. (Challenge to New York turning
over city land to a faith-based school.)
1990. Helms v.
Cody. (Challenge to public school teachers working in faith-based
schools in Louisiana.)
1984. Aguilar v.
Felton. (Challenge to tax aid to sectarian schools.)
1984. Witters v.
Washington Department of Services for the Blind. (Defense of
Washington State constitution prohibition of tax aid to a faith-based
Rapids v. Ball. (Challenge to school district's operating
an extensive program of classes on the premises of faith-based schools.)
1983. Mueller v.
Allen. (Challenge to tax deductions for faith-based schools.)
2004. Elk Grove
United School District v. Newdow. (Challenge to Congress'
inclusion of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance
2002. Kong v.
Min de Parle. (Challenge to government support of Christian
Health is a Legal Duty v. Vladek. (Do the 1997 Medicare and Medicaid
Amendments violate the First Amendment by creating and defining "religious
non-medical health care institutions"?)
1997. Coles v.
Cleveland Board of Education. (Challenge to prayers at school
1990. Welsh v.
Boy Scouts of America. (Challenge to religious discrimination by
1987. Bowen v.
Kendrick. ("Does the Establishment Clause permit the Government
to pay religious organizations to promote government policies that such
organizations teach as articles of religious faith?")
Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. v. Reagan. (Challenge to
establishment of U.S. diplomatic relations with the Holy See.)
1986. Karcher v.
May. ("Whether a state legislature may enact a statute requiring
state school employees, principals and teachers, to direct group meditation
in their public school classrooms.")
State Court Cases
1993. American Academy
of Pediatrics v. Lundgren. (California abortion law restrictions.)
1990. Davis v.
Davis. (Treatment of frozen embryos in Tennessee.)
1988. In re: Unborn
Child. (Challenge to father's veto of a woman's abortion decision.)