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Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Inc., et al

    Citation. 454 U.S. 464, 102 S. Ct. 752, 70 L. Ed. 2d 700, 1982 U.S.

    Brief Fact Summary. The Respondents, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Inc. (Respondent), brought suit as taxpayers. They alleged that the Department of Health Education and Welfare grant of United States property to a religious college violated the Establishment and Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Taxpayer standing is appropriate when the plaintiff challenges an enactment under the taxing and spending clause and the enactment exceeds specific constitutional limitations on taxing and spending.


    Facts. Under the property clause, Art. IV, Section: 3, cl. 2 of the Constitution, Congress may dispose of and regulate property belonging to the United States. Under the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949 (the Act), the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare conveyed a 77-acre parcel to the Petitioner, Valley Forge Christian College (Petitioner). Respondent sued on behalf of its 90,000 “taxpayer members,” alleging that Congress violated the Establishment Clause with its grant of property.

    Issue. Does the Respondent have standing as a taxpayer to bring this suit?

    Held. No. Reversed and remanded. Because Respondents sue on an administrative action authorized under the property clause of the, they fail the first prong of the standing test developed in Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83 (1968), requiring Congressional action under the taxing and spending clause.

    Dissent. Justice William Brennan (J. Brennan) sees the rise of standing jurisprudence as a means to sidestep deciding important rights issues by effectively slamming “the courthouse door against plaintiffs who are entitled to full consideration of their claims on the merits.”

    Discussion. Regardless of the dissent’s moral and fair play arguments, the majority holding in this case is a straightforward application of the rule developed in Flast v. Cohen, which has yet to be overturned.

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