2 minute read

Valley Forge College v. Americans United


The Supreme Court found that private taxpayers could not challenge federal spending programs in court without proving specific injuries. Without the show of injury, a requirement basic to the concept of "standing" before the courts, the complaint was considered a general grievance more appropriately directed towards the legislative or executive branches of government. Public pressure mounted for the Court to broaden its definition of standing. Using a narrow definition, government actions can potentially violate the Constitution with no one able to challenge in a timely manner.

In 1942, the Department of the Army acquired 181 acres of land northwest of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On a 77-acre part of the property, the government built Valley Forge General Hospital to provide medical care for members of the military. After 30 years of operation, the secretary of defense identified the hospital in April of 1973 for closure as part of a national plan to reduce the number of military installations in the United States. Declared surplus property, the facility was transferred to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) for disbursement.

Under authority of the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949, HEW was directed to award the property to a party showing "the greatest public benefit." In response to an application from Valley Forge Christian College, HEW transferred the property to the college in August of 1976. HEW did not charge the college for the $577,500 facility because of a 100 percent public benefit allowance calculated by the agency. The college, a nonprofit educational institution under supervision of the Assemblies of God religious order, was committed to use the facility solely for educational purposes for at least 30 years. The college expressed its intention to conduct "a program of education . . . meeting the accrediting standards of the State of Pennsylvania, the American Association of Bible Colleges, the Division of Education of the General Council of the Assemblies of God and the Veterans Administration."

Upon learning of the acquisition through a news release, four employees of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court in October of 1976. They sought to block the property transfer, charging violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which directs that the U.S. government can not provide support to religious organizations. Americans United, a nonprofit organization, claimed that due to the transfer their members "would be deprived of the fair and constitutional use of his (her) tax dollar . . . in violation of his (her) rights under the First Amendment." Americans United asserted the government should have been paid full value for the property since a religious-oriented organization could not legally benefit all Americans.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Valley Forge College v. Americans United - Significance, Taxpayer Standing, Right To Sue, Impact