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Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United FOR Separation OF Church AND State 454 U.S. 464 (1982)

VALLEY FORGE CHRISTIAN COLLEGE v. AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE 454 U.S. 464 (1982)

Severely limiting the precedent of flast v. cohen (1968), the Supreme Court here tightened the requirements for standing in a taxpayer ' ssuit against the federal government.

Under a general power from Congress to dispose of surplus federal property, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) transferred land and buildings worth over $500,000 to a religious college that trained students for the ministry. Because HEW calculated that the government benefited from the transfer at a rate of 100 percent, the college paid nothing.

Federal taxpayers sued to set aside the transfer, contending that it amounted to an establishment of religion. The Supreme Court held, 5–4, that the taxpayers lacked standing. The majority distinguished Flast, which had upheld taxpayer standing to challenge federal subsidies to church schools: Flast challenged an act of Congress; here plaintiffs challenged a decision by hew. Furthermore, Flast involved injury to the plaintiffs as taxpayers: tax money was to be spent unconstitutionally. Here the Court dealt not with Congress's spending power but with the power to dispose of property.

The dissenters emphasized what everyone knew: absent taxpayer standing, no one has standing to challenge government donations of property to churches. In such cases the establishment clause is enforceable in the consciences of government officials, but not in court.

Kenneth L. Karst
(1986)

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