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Valley Forge College v. Americans United

Right To Sue

With Justices Marshall and Blackmun joining in dissent, Justice Brennan strongly protested the majority using "standing to slam the courthouse door against plaintiffs." He believed the Court had far more flexibility in determining standing under the Constitution. Brennan criticized the majority on several issues. First, he believed standing is not lost because many people may claim the same injury, contrary to the Frothington ruling. The Constitution does not draw distinction between large injuries and smaller ones. Secondly, under Article III, if a causal relationship can be identified, it does not matter how indirect. Thirdly, even though a taxpayer cannot sue for return of tax payments, they can file a complaint that public funds are being spent in violation of the Constitution. This question is not one of standing, but of legal rights.

Unlike any other clause in the Constitution, the Establishment Clause imposes a restriction on the power to tax based on manner of spending. This restriction was established in the 1947 Everson v. Board of Education case by stating, "No tax in any amount . . . can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions." Therefore, the Establishment Clause automatically gives citizens standing to challenge the spending of tax funds to advance religion. In addition, all taxpayers suffer the same injury under an Establishment Clause violation. Brennan added that taxpayers must be able to challenge Establishment Clause violations in court. Objections cannot be raised at the time of paying a tax since it is paid before the actual spending, and taxpayers cannot challenge the tax collectors, because there is no way of separating those monies that will be spent in support of religion from the general funds of the nation. Therefore, the taxpayer must be able to challenge at the time of the violation "in order to halt the . . . intolerable burden on his pocketbook, his conscience, and his constitutional rights."

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