Can Bush Fund Faith-Base Conferences?

Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor stands in front of the door at the foundation headquarters Thursday, Jan. 25, 2007, in Madison, Wis.
AP
One of the first initiatives George W. Bush pushed as president will be challenged next week in the Supreme Court. As CBS News correspondent Thalia Assuras reports, the high court will hear arguments on Wednesday in the first First Amendment case directly related to Mr. Bush's faith-based programs.

Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor don't seem like much of a threat, but if they have their way, faith-based conferences – like the one the president hosted in Washington on March of 2006 – could disappear.

"I appreciate your attendance," Mr. Bush said at the second White House National Conference on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. "I take this conference very seriously."

The conferences, one component of Mr. Bush's faith-based initiative, are designed to help religious groups get access to federal funding. Eleven cabinet offices have centers for faith-based programs, which operate in many states to help those in need.

In 2006, a lower court said the Freedom from Religion Foundation, headed by Gaylor and Barker, had legal standing as taxpayers to challenge the White House practice of spending money on the conferences. The administration appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

"We're challenging the creation of the faith-based offices at the White House and cabinet levels," Gaylor said. "And their faith based bureaucracy, what they've set up, with multi-million dollars."

Their argument: that the funding of the conferences violates the separation between church and state and is unconstitutional. The president has insisted the programs are on the correct side of that wall and that they work.

"If you're addicted to alcohol, if a faith program is able to get you off alcohol, we ought to say hallelujah and thanks at the federal level," Mr. Bush said at the 2006 conference.

"I understand people saying I don't like my money going to that particular process, but, you know what, you and I both pay taxes, and there are things the government funds that I don't like," said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice. "But that's part of the deal, part of being American. You can't simply object because your portion of your tax dollars is going to something you really don't like. It's just not the way the system works.

Sekulow's group has filed a friend of the court brief supporting the administration in the upcoming case.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has brought successful challenges to faith-based programs in the past, including "MentorKids" – a program that had its funding suspended in 2005 after the foundation sued claiming the group accepted only church-going mentors.

If this week's court case challenging the conferences is decided against them, Gaylor and Barker say they won't give up.

"We can still challenge individual applications. We can still go after the MentorKids. We can still go after specific allocations if we do see violations of church-state separation," Barker said. "So that wouldn't stop."