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Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Trump FA-WI-0002
Docket / Court 3:17-cv-00330-jdp ( W.D. Wis. )
State/Territory Wisconsin
Case Type(s) Presidential Authority
Speech and Religious Freedom
Case Summary
On May 4, 2017, a nonprofit created "to educate the public on matters of nontheism" (the Freedom From Religion Foundation, FFRF) filed this lawsuit against the U.S. federal government in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. The case was assigned to District Judge James D ... read more >
On May 4, 2017, a nonprofit created "to educate the public on matters of nontheism" (the Freedom From Religion Foundation, FFRF) filed this lawsuit against the U.S. federal government in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. The case was assigned to District Judge James D. Peterson. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel, alleged that Donald Trump’s “religious liberty” executive order unfairly allowed religious non-profit organizations to engage in political campaigning and retain their tax-exempt status but did not promise the same for non-religious non-profit organizations. As a non-religious organization with 501(c)3 status, the FFRF argued that Trump violated its equal protection rights and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Because the Johnson Amendment forbids any 501(c)3 organization from participating in political campaigns, the plaintiff argued that Trump was selectively enforcing the Johnson Amendment in violation of the Take Care Clause of the Constitution. The plaintiff sought declaratory and injunctive relief.

On June 29, 2017, a small group of Christian religious leaders sought to intervene as defendants. The FFRF did not oppose the intervention, but the government did, expressing that that it would be more appropriate for the religious leaders to participate by submitting amicus briefs in support of the executive order.

On August 22, the government moved to dismiss the case. It alleged that FFRF had misunderstood the purpose of the executive order, that the executive order did not exempt religious organizations from the restrictions on political activity applicable to all tax-exempt organizations. The government alleged that the executive order merely served as an instruction for the IRS not to unfairly target religious organizations. Although the court had not ruled on their motion to intervene, the religious leaders also filed a motion to dismiss on the same day.

The FFRF did not respond to the motions to dismiss. Eight days later, it declared victory on its website and through a press release because the court documents submitted by the government had stated that the executive order did not stop enforcement of the Johnson Amendment or give special privileges to religious organizations. These official court documents directly conflicted with the statements by President Trump that had motivated the plaintiff's complaint.

On September 19, 2017, the FFRF filed an amended complaint that included allegations against the proposed intervening religious leaders. On November 9, 2017, both the government and the group of religious leaders filed motions to dismiss this amended complaint.

The court never ruled on the religious leaders’ motions to intervene or any of the motions to dismiss. The FFRF voluntarily dismissed the case on December 13, 2017. The case is closed.

Rebecca Strauss - 05/25/2018


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Freedom of speech/association
Discrimination-area
Pay / Benefits
Discrimination-basis
Religion discrimination
General
Disparate Treatment
Pattern or Practice
Religious programs / policies
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Type of Facility
Government-run
Non-government non-profit
Causes of Action Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) United States of America
Plaintiff Description The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit educational charity that works to keep religion and government separate
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Mixed
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Admission that the contested executive order is limited
Source of Relief None
Filing Year 2017
Case Closing Year 2017
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  FFRF prevails: Trump administration admits Johnson Amendment still in force
ffrf.org
Date: Aug. 30, 2017
By: Freedom From Religion Foundation
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
3:17-cv-00330-jdp (W.D. Wis.)
FA-WI-0002-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/14/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
FA-WI-0002-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/04/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendants' Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction or for Failure to State a Claim [ECF# 17]
FA-WI-0002-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/22/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 26]
FA-WI-0002-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/19/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Crocker, Stephen L. (W.D. Wis.) [Magistrate]
FA-WI-0002-9000
Peterson, James Donald (W.D. Wis.)
FA-WI-0002-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Bolton, Richard L. (Wisconsin)
FA-WI-0002-0001 | FA-WI-0002-0003 | FA-WI-0002-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Anderson, Jeffrey M (South Carolina)
FA-WI-0002-0002
Blomberg, Daniel Howard (District of Columbia)
FA-WI-0002-9000
Luh, James C. (District of Columbia)
FA-WI-0002-0002 | FA-WI-0002-9000
Rassbach, Eric C (District of Columbia)
FA-WI-0002-9000
Readler, Chad A. (District of Columbia)
FA-WI-0002-0002
Shumate, Brett (District of Columbia)
FA-WI-0002-0002
Verm, Diana Marie (District of Columbia)
FA-WI-0002-9000

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