updated 8/17/2007 2:34:37 PM ET 2007-08-17T18:34:37

The American Civil Liberties Union and its Louisiana affiliate have filed suit in federal court against the governor and state treasurer, challenging taxpayer-financed government grants to two churches.

The gifts at issue — $100,000 to the Stonewall Baptist Church in Bossier City and $20,000 to Shreveport Christian Church — are among 14 appropriations state lawmakers requested for churches in the new state operating budget signed into law last month by Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

Charging that earmarking church-related grants in the state budget is unconstitutional and that the purposes of the grants are only vaguely described, the ACLU in late June asked Blanco to veto them or face a court challenge.

According to the ACLU, the state in certain circumstances can give money to religious organizations for programs that provide nonreligious social services, but the First Amendment bars the government from making direct, unrestricted payments to churches.

“The government cannot simply choose to subsidize its favorite houses of worship with taxpayer dollars,” Daniel Mach, director of litigation for the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, said in a statement.

The ACLU also argues that the state budget calls for no oversight of how the money is spent.

A spokesman for Blanco said the governor’s office had no comment on the lawsuit.

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