Although the White House scheme to dole out tax dollars to religious ministries never passed Congress, the executive branch nonetheless has been cutting checks to advance President George W. Bush's "faith-based" initiative. A new federal court ruling published this week dealt this backdoor scheme a significant blow.

"The federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps must stop financing programs that place volunteers in Catholic schools, a judge has ruled, saying it unconstitutionally crosses the line between church and state," according to The Washington Post.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled in favor of the argument that "federal money was being used improperly to pay for teaching of Christian values through programs such as the University of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education." Her complete ruling is available on the court's web site - PDF.

The Corporation for National and Community Service argued that funding had been awarded on the basis of a program's secular activities regardless of any religious teaching that might be part of the program.

Judge Kessler's rejection of this argument will likely have significant consequences for Bush's "faith-based" initiative. Civil libertarians have long argued that the administration has neglected important First Amendment questions. The support of a judge's ruling bolsters this argument.

The decision clearly places a heavier burden on the Bush administration to exercise greater care in ensuring that federally funded programs are not being used to promote religion.