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PostPosted: 30 Nov 2009, 13:16 
Grand Poobah
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Joined: 18 Sep 2007, 11:26
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Location: Buffalo, NY
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The Council for Secular Humanism
and Co-plaintiffs Richard and Elaine Hull
Target Faith-based Funding in Critical Lawsuit

For nearly two years the Council for Secular Humanism has been engaged as a plaintiff in a critical lawsuit against the state of Florida’s “faith-based initiative” program. Florida funds two openly sectarian social service organizations in spite of a state constitution that explicitly forbids any transfer of public funds to sectarian groups. A donor provided support to help defray some of the initial costs of this suit, but that support has now been exhausted. To litigate this case through the Florida Supreme Court (and we can virtually guarantee the case is headed there—it’s that important) could easily require us to bear sole responsibility for costs of fifty thousand dollars or more. Given the U.S. Supreme Court’s evident unwillingness to curb faith-based grants, this suit may be the best chance any organization, anywhere in the country, has to mount a successful challenge against faith-based funding.

Here’s the background to the latest developments. In August 2008, Judge John C. Cooper of the Leon County, Florida, Circuit Court, based on an interpretation of the facts very favorable to the state, ruled that the state’s support for those sectarian agencies did not violate the state Constitution. And he ruled on technical grounds that the Council for Secular Humanism and co-plaintiffs Richard and Elaine Hull lacked the “standing” (legal eligibility) to bring this suit in the first place. Finding the logic of Judge Cooper’s rulings unconvincing—and because, for all the reasons touched on above, we consider this suit so enormously important—we appealed those rulings.

The Florida First District Court of Appeals has agreed to consider our appeal and scheduled oral arguments—something not routinely granted. Our attorneys presented oral arguments on Wednesday, October 21. We now await for the Court’s decision, but even if it’s favorable, we expect that the state will appeal.

Still, on one level this is amazingly good news. This is our best chance to continue moving toward our ultimate goal of overturning Florida’s unconstitutional faith-based funding program. On another level, as urgent as this trip to court may be, it’s also frustrating. Because when you strip away all the high-flown legal jargon, what we’ve done before the First District Court of Appeals is simply going to court for the right to keep going to court. It’s absolutely necessary. It’s a potential live-or-die decision point for our case. But it’s also a round of litigation we otherwise would never have needed—and hadn’t figured into our original estimates of what this litigation would cost.

Our original cost estimate was $50,000 if the case moved all the way to the Florida Supreme Court. The costs of this appeal are on top of it. We have retained highly capable Florida attorneys who have spent time gearing up for the appeal. Lead attorney Christine Davis Graves has written to us, saying that in preparation for oral argument, she planned to have two or three other appellate specialists in her firm grill her in a couple of mock oral arguments. That’s a roomful of distinguished legal talent, and the meter will be running for each and every one of them. This procedure is by no means excessive. In fact, it’s standard procedure in preparing for argument in a major case. Moreover, given our opposition, careful preparation is essential. There are no fewer than eight, that’s right, eight attorneys working the appeal on the other side, including a former Florida Supreme Court justice, three attorneys from the Washington, D.C. law firm of Wiley Rein LLP, and attorneys from the Becket Fund—specialists in defending the flow of money from the public treasury to churches. The opposition knows this case is critical and is pulling out all the stops. They recognize a victory for us could threaten the easy access to the public purse that churches now enjoy.

Chloride and Sodium: Two terribly dangerous substances that taste great together!

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