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BJC: a citizenís religion should not matter when litigating Establishment Clause violations E-mail

WASHINGTON — A citizen should be allowed to sue over an Establishment Clause violation – even if the alleged violation is associated with his or her own religion – according to the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. The organization filed a friend-of-the-court brief Monday at the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Salazar v. Buono, explaining the legal precedent supporting that right.

This case began when former National Park Service employee Frank Buono sued the federal government over an 8-foot-tall Latin cross on federal land. Buono said the National Park Service’s maintenance of the cross in the Mojave National Preserve violated the First Amendment’s prohibition on the establishment of religion.

To download the BJC's friend-of-the-court brief, click here.

A federal judge agreed with Buono and ordered the cross’s removal. That decision led Congress to transfer the small piece of land under the cross to a private owner who agreed to take care of the cross. Lower courts ruled that this congressional action was not enough to cure the Establishment Clause violation, and they stopped the property transfer. The Supreme Court will now review that decision.

In its argument, the government not only disputes Buono’s claims of an Establishment Clause violation, but it also challenges his “standing,” or right to sue. The government argues that Buono’s religious beliefs make him ineligible to sue because the religious symbol in question is a symbol of his own Catholic faith. The BJC brief disagrees, maintaining that a court’s examination of a person’s religious beliefs “raises concerns about government entanglement in religion,” improperly placing the court in the position of evaluating the validity and significance of someone’s beliefs.

Citing a long line of established precedent, the BJC wrote that “the design of the Constitution is that preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and a choice committed to the private sphere.”

“The right to take action about such government exploitation is not limited to those who object to the religion being endorsed by the government,” said BJC General Counsel K. Hollyn Hollman. “The government advancement of any religion not only violates the Establishment Clause, but it threatens to deprive religious symbols of their sacred character.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on October 7.


The Baptist Joint Committee is a 73-year-old, Washington, D.C.-based religious liberty organization that works to defend and extend God-given religious liberty for all, bringing a uniquely Baptist witness to the principle that religion must be freely exercised, neither advanced nor inhibited by government.


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