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

PETITIONER: Valley Forge Christian College
RESPONDENT: Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc.
LOCATION: Former land of Valley Forge General Hospital

DOCKET NO.: 80-327
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 454 US 464 (1982)
ARGUED: Nov 04, 1981
DECIDED: Jan 12, 1982

ADVOCATES:
C. Clark Hodgson, Jr. - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Lee Boothby - Argued the cause for the respondents
Rex E. Lee - Argued the cause for the federal parties as respondents in support of the petitioner

Facts of the case

The Secretary of Defense closed the Valley Forge General Hospital in an effort to reduce the number of military installations in the country. In accordance with a congressional statute regulating the dispersal of surplus government property, part of the hospital's land was given, free-of-charge, to the Valley Forge Christian College.

Question

Did the transfer of property violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

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

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 04, 1981 in Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 12, 1982 in Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Valley Forge Christian College against Americans United for Separation of Church and State will be announced by Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

Pursuant to its authority under the Property Clause of the constitution, Congress enacted the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949 in part to provide an economical and efficient system for the disposal of surplus government property.

The Act authorizes the Secretary of Education to convey surplus real property to non-profit education institution and to reduce the selling price by an amount that reflects the benefit gained by the United States from the transferee's use of the property.

In this case which comes to us on certiorari from the Court of Appeals of the Third Circuit, the Secretary conveyed surplus property former -- formerly used as a military hospital to petitioner, a non-profit church related college primarily devoted to training men and women for religious ministry.

Respondents, an organization devoted to -- separation of church and state and four of its employees brought suit in the District Court seeking to rescind the conveyance on the ground that it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Respondents maintained that the conveyance deprived them of the fair and constitutional use of their tax dollars.

The District Court dismissed the complaint on the ground that respondents lack standing as taxpayers under our decision in Flast against Cohen and had failed to allege any actual injury that would allow them to challenge the conveyance.

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the District Court.

Although the Court was inclined to agree, the respondents lack standing as taxpayers, it held they had standing as citizens claiming injury to their “shared individuated right to a government that shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.”

We now reverse this judgment and hold that respondents have failed to demonstrate standing sufficient to satisfy the case or controversy requirement of Article III of the Constitution.

They cannot claim standing as taxpayers under our decision in Flast because the transfer they challenge is not a congressional action taken under the taxing and spending clause of Article I, Section 8.

It is instead an executive branch action authorized by Congress under the Property Clause.

We also hold the respondents cannot claim standing as citizens.

Article III requires an allegation of tangible personal injury, which is not satisfied simply by the claim that the Government has violated the Constitution.

A plaintiff must also allege some personal consequence as a result of the allegedly unconstitutional conduct and the respondents have not -- have not done simply by claiming a sincere and fervent interest in the separation of church and state.

To the extent, respondents invite the Court to create an exception to Article III for cases arising under the Establishment Clause, we declined that invitation.

Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion which Justices Marshall and Blackmun have joined.

Justice Stevens has also filed a dissenting opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Justice Rehnquist.