Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dismissal Of Challenge To Florida's Use Of State Funds To Support Faith-Based Substance Abuse For Prisoners Reversed

In COUNCIL FOR SECULAR HUMANSIM, INC., RICHARD HULL and ELAINE HULL, v. WALTER A. MCNEIL, in his official capacity as Secretary of Corrections of Florida: PRISONERS OF CHRIST, INC., a Florida corporation; and LAMB OF GOD MINISTRIES, INC., Florida corporation (1D08-4713), the First District reversed the trial court's order granting a motion for judgment on the pleadings in a "petition seeking to have the trial court prohibit, on state constitutional grounds...from using State funds pursuant to sections 944.473 and 944.4731, Florida Statutes (2007), to support the faith-based substance abuse transitional housing programs of appellees."

Count I
Examining the contracts involved, the trial court rejected the contention of the appellants that the DOC contracts in this case mandated adherence to Christian doctrines. The trial court reasoned that these contracts require the contractors to ensure that state funds are used for the sole purpose of furthering the secular goals of criminal rehabilitation and the staff of the ministries are prevented from disparaging a client’s religious beliefs or seeking to convert them to a particular religious faith. See, e.g., Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. McCallum, 324 F.3d 880 (CA 7, 2003)
The appellants’ claims in Count I are based on the no-aid provision in Florida’s constitution, not the state or federal Establishment Clauses...As this court explained in Holmes I, Article I, section 3 of the Florida Constitution is not “substantively synonymous with the federal Establishment Clause.”...Specifically, the state may not use tax revenues to “directly or indirectly” aid “any church, sect, or religious denomination or any sectarian institution.”
We agree that Florida’s no-aid provision does not create a per se bar to the state providing funds to religious or faith-based institutions to furnish social services. As we explained in dicta in Holmes I, 886 So. 2d at 362, “nothing in the Florida no-aid provision would create a constitutional bar to state aid to a non-profit institution that was not itself sectarian, even if the institution is affiliated with a religious order or religious organization.” The inquiry here is whether the programs funded by sections 944.473 and 944.4731 and provided by Prisoners and Lamb of God are predominantly religious in nature and whether the programs promote the religious mission of the organizations receiving the funds
Count II
In Count II, appellants have challenged the contracts entered into between DOC and Prisoners and Lamb of God, alleging that they require these ministries to “provide a transitional program that includes a faith-based component resulting in spiritual renewal” and that “the spiritual renewal is created by inculcating faith in Jesus Christ.” In Count II, appellants assert that “[t]o the extent Florida Statutes sections 944.473 and 944.4731 authorize the Illegal Contracts and payment of the Illegal Contracts, those statutes should be declared unconstitutional.” They ask that McNeil be enjoined from entering into the contracts.
We agree with appellees that, to the extent that Count II challenges McNeil’s authority to enter into contracts and the performance of those contracts by the ministries, the trial court correctly concluded taxpayer standing is not present. For, as appellees argued below, allowing third parties to gain access to courts based upon taxpayer standing to challenge the performance of contracts and the decision of an executive agency to enter into a contract would be extraordinarily burdensome and would impermissibly allow a taxpayer to interfere with State procurement contracts.
Count III
In Count III, CSH and the Hulls have alleged that section 944.4731(6)(a) provides a “chaplain” with important government powers with respect to the placement of offenders in substance abuse transitional programs.  These allegations do not state a cause of action under either the Federal Establishment Clause or Article I, section 3 of the Florida Constitution. Appellants have not alleged that the acts of these chaplains establish a religion. In addition, the state’s employment of a chaplain does not violate the Establishment Clause.


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