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

Citation102 S.Ct. 752,454 U.S. 464,70 L.Ed.2d 700
Decision Date12 January 1982
Docket NumberNo. 80-327,80-327
PartiesVALLEY FORGE CHRISTIAN COLLEGE, Petitioner v. AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE, INC., et al
CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Syllabus

Pursuant to its authority under the Property Clause, Congress enacted the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949 to provide an economical and efficient system for the disposal of surplus Federal Government property. Under the statute, property that has outlived its usefulness to the Government is declared "surplus" and may be transferred to private or other public entities. The Act authorizes the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) (now the Secretary of Education) to assume responsibility for disposing of surplus real property for educational use, and he may sell such property to nonprofit, tax-exempt educational institutions for consideration that takes into account any benefit which has accrued or may accrue to the United States from the transferee's use of the property. Property formerly used as a military hospital was declared to be "surplus property" under the Act and was conveyed by the Department of HEW to petitioner church-related college. The appraised value of the property, $577,500, was discounted by the Secretary of HEW's computation of a 100% public benefit allowance, thus permitting petitioner to acquire the property without making any financial payment. Respondents, an organization dedicated to the separation of church and State and several of its employees, brought suit in Federal District Court, challenging the conveyance on the ground that it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and alleging that each member of respondent organization "would be deprived of the fair and constitutional use of his (her) tax dollars." The District Court dismissed the complaint on the ground that respondents lacked standing to sue as taxpayers under Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 88 S.Ct. 1942, 20 L.Ed.2d 947, and failed to allege any actual injury beyond a generalized grievance common to all taxpayers. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that although respondents lacked standing as taxpayers to challenge the conveyance, they had standing merely as "citizens," claiming " 'injury in fact' to their shared individuated right to a government that 'shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion,' " which standing was sufficient to satisfy the "case or controversy" requirement of Art. III. Held: Respondents do not have standing, either in their capacity as taxpayers or as citizens, to challenge the conveyance in question. Pp. 471-490.

(a) The exercise of judicial power under Art. III is restricted to litigants who can show "injury in fact" resulting from the action that they seek to have the court adjudicate. Pp. 471-476.

(b) Respondents are without standing to sue as taxpayers, because the source of their complaint is not a congressional action but a decision by HEW to transfer a parcel of federal property and because the conveyance in question was not an exercise of Congress' authority conferred by the Taxing and Spending Clause but by the Property Clause. Cf. Flast v. Cohen, supra. Pp. 476-482.

(c) Nor have respondents sufficiently alleged any other basis for standing to bring suit. Although they claim that the Constitution has been violated, they claim nothing else. They fail to identify any personal injury suffered as a consequence of the alleged constitutional error, other than the psychological consequence presumably produced by observation of conduct with which one disagrees. That is not injury sufficient to confer standing under Art. III. While respondents are firmly committed to the constitutional principle of separation of church and State, standing is not measured by the intensity of the litigant's interest or the fervor of his advocacy. Pp. 482-487.

(d) Enforcement of the Establishment Clause does not justify special exceptions from the standing requirements of Art. III. There is no place in our constitutional scheme for the philosophy that the business of the federal courts is correcting constitutional errors and that "cases and controversies" are at best merely convenient vehicles for doing so and at worst nuisances that may be dispensed with when they become obstacles to that transcendent endeavor. And such philosophy does not become more palatable when the underlying merits concern the Establishment Clause. Pp. 488-490.

3 Cir., 619 F.2d 252, reversed.

C. Clark Hodgson, Jr., Philadelphia, Pa., for petitioner.

Sol. Gen. Rex E. Lee, Washington, D. C., for federal respondents in support of the petitioner.

Lee Boothby, Berrien Springs, Mich., for non-federal respondents.

Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

I

Article IV, § 3, cl. 2, of the Constitution vests Congress with the "Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the . . . Property belonging to the United States." Shortly after the termination of hostilities in the Second World War, Congress enacted the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949, 63 Stat. 377, as amended, 40 U.S.C. § 471 et seq. (1976 ed. and Supp. III). The Act was designed, in part, to provide "an economical and efficient system for . . . the disposal of surplus property." 63 Stat. 378, 40 U.S.C. § 471. In furtherance of this policy, federal agencies are directed to maintain adequate inventories of the property under their control and to identify excess property for transfer to other agencies able to use it. See 63 Stat. 384, 40 U.S.C. §§ 483(b), (c).1 Property that has outlived its usefulness to the Federal Government is declared "surplus" 2 and may be transferred to pri- vate or other public entities. See generally 63 Stat. 385, as amended, 40 U.S.C. § 484.

The Act authorizes the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (now the Secretary of Education 3) to assume responsibility for disposing of surplus real property "for school, classroom, or other educational use." 63 Stat. 387, as amended, 40 U.S.C. § 484(k)(1). Subject to the disapproval of the Administrator of General Services, the Secretary may sell or lease the property to nonprofit, tax-exempt educational institutions for consideration that takes into account "any benefit which has accrued or may accrue to the United States" from the transferee's use of the property. 63 Stat. 387, 40 U.S.C. §§ 484(k)(1)(A), (C).4 By regulation, the Secretary has provided for the computation of a "public benefit allowance," which discounts the transfer price of the property "on the basis of benefits to the United States from the use of such property for educational purposes." 34 CFR § 12.9(a) (1980).5

The property which spawned this litigation was acquired by the Department of the Army in 1942, as part of a larger tract of approximately 181 acres of land northwest of Philadelphia. The Army built on that land the Valley Forge General Hospital, and for 30 years thereafter, that hospital provided medical care for members of the Armed Forces. In April 1973, as part of a plan to reduce the number of military installations in the United States, the Secretary of Defense proposed to close the hospital, and the General Services Administration declared it to be "surplus property."

The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) eventually assumed responsibility for disposing of portions of the property, and in August 1976, it conveyed a 77-acre tract to petitioner, the Valley Forge Christian College.6 The appraised value of the property at the time of conveyance was $577,500.7 This appraised value was discounted, however, by the Secretary's computation of a 100% public benefit allowance, which permitted petitioner to acquire the property without making any financial payment for it. The deed from HEW conveyed the land in fee simple with certain conditions subsequent, which required petitioner to use the property for 30 years solely for the educational purposes described in petitioner's application. In that description, petitioner stated its intention to conduct "a program of education . . . meeting the accrediting standards of the State of Pennsylvania, The American Association of Bible Colleges, the Division of Education of the General Council of the Assemblies of God and the Veterans Administration."

Petitioner is a nonprofit educational institution operating under the supervision of a religious order known as the Assemblies of God. By its own description, petitioner's purpose is "to offer systematic training on the collegiate level to men and women for Christian service as either ministers or laymen." App. 34. Its degree programs reflect this orientation by providing courses of study "to train leaders for church related ministries." Id., at 102. Faculty members must "have been baptized in the Holy Spirit and be living consistent Christian lives," id., at 37, and all members of the college administration must be affiliated with the Assemblies of God, id., at 36. In its application for the 77-acre tract, petitioner represented that, if it obtained the property, it would make "additions to its offerings in the arts and humanities," and would strengthen its "psychology" and "counselling" courses to provide services in inner-city areas.

In September 1976, respondents Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc. (Americans United), and four of its employees, learned of the conveyance through a news release. Two months later, they brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, later transferred to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, to challenge the conveyance on the ground that it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.8 Seeid., at 10. In its amended complaint, Americans United described itself as a nonprofit organization composed of 90,000 "taxpayer members." The complaint asserted that each member "would be deprived...

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