Factbox: Top court to hear cases on religion, seat belts

(BestGrowthStock) – The Supreme Court said on Monday it would decide a number of cases next term, including disputes involving religion and automaker liability over seat belts.

The justices said they would hear arguments in the following cases during their upcoming term that begins in October:

— An appeal by Arizona defending a 13-year-old law that provides state income tax credit for donations for private school scholarships.

A U.S. appeals court ruled that certain Arizona taxpayers have enough of a case to proceed with their legal challenge arguing that the program violated constitutional church-state separation by favoring religion.

A federal judge initially dismissed the lawsuit, which said that 75 percent of the scholarship funds granted in 1998 went to students attending religious schools.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in the case could affect similar scholarship tax credit programs in Georgia, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, supporters of the law said.

— Whether an individual may sue a state or state official for damages for violating a federal law protecting religious rights. There have been conflicting rulings on the issue by U.S. appeals courts.

The case involved a lawsuit by Harvey Sossamon, a Texas inmate who claimed he was denied use of the prison chapel and that prisoners of other faiths received special accommodations not given to Christians.

A federal judge and a U.S. appeals court ruled against Sossamon. The appeals court found that a state’s sovereign immunity under the Constitution barred such claims for money damages under the 2000 federal law protecting an individual’s religious rights.

— Whether federal law and regulation setting vehicle safety standards barred lawsuits seeking damages from auto makers for installing lap-only seat belts.

The case involved a California lawsuit against Mazda Motor Corp over a fatal 2002 collision involving a 1993 Mazda minivan. A passenger sitting in one of the rear seats and wearing a lap-only seat belt, was killed.

The lawsuit claimed that the minivan was defectively designed because it lacked a lap and shoulder seat belt for the rear seat.

Mazda said it complied with the federal safety regulations in effect at the time and that the courts in California correctly ruled the lawsuit could not go forward.

The vehicle safety regulations have been changed and most passenger vehicles built after September 1, 2007 now include shoulder and lap seat belts in all rear seats that face forward.

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(Reporting by James Vicini, Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Factbox: Top court to hear cases on religion, seat belts