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Supreme Court rules for Missouri church in playground case

Supreme Court rules for Missouri church in playground case

The church's application ranked fifth out of 44 submissions, yet Trinity was disqualified from receiving one of the 14 grants. Trinity Lutheran will have a similar destabilizing effect on Establishment Clause jurisprudence by requiring states to fund religion in certain circumstances.

The Missouri recycling program was not available to all applicants. "The opinion went as far as to say it is "odious to our Constitution" to exclude a church-run preschool and eliminate it from a public grant program exclusively because it is a faith-based organization". The rule is simple: "No churches need apply".

Chief Justice Roberts added a footnote that limited the sweep of his opinion.

In the 7-2 ruling, the justices sided with Missouri's Trinity Lutheran Church, which had been denied state funding for a playground improvement project. (Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, who in a concurring opinion argued that Locke was wrong and should be explicitly overruled, refused to join the footnote, denying it the status of a majority opinion.) But despite Roberts' false modesty, this decision is nearly certain to have implications well beyond playground improvements. Chief Justice John Roberts' opinion for the court stated quite straightforwardly that to deny funding simply because an institution is a church violates free exercise and is "odious to our Constitution". "Such a reading would be unreasonable for our cases are 'governed by general principles, rather than ad hoc improvisations". Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who dissented from the majority, also wrote that there is no useful distinction between a church's facilities - which are used to advance a religious mission - and the religious mission itself. "But the suggestion that these changes will somehow obliterate the "wall of separation" ignores the many ways in which government funding already benefits religious institutions through tax benefits, grants, partnerships, even police and fire services", he said. Its lawyers argued that the state's action constituted religious discrimination in violation of the federal Constitution's Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses. The state, however, said Trinity Lutheran was not allowed to participate. In the preschool case, the playground grant was not related to religion. Playgrounds are different from buses which are different in kind from textbooks.

But this Supreme Court ruling, Hemel said, could give some people a new argument for including religious institutions in subsidy programs and invalidate subsidy programs that were written before this case. The Court clearly understood this and ruled that it is unconstitutional to treat religious organizations differently in the public square just because they are religious. The court said the state could not refuse to provide funds to a nonprofit just because it was a church.

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"It is also significant that this understanding of the First Amendment was shared by seven members of the Court", Moreland said in a statement provided to The Daily Caller News Foundation. Sotomayor and Ginsburg's footnote 14 anxious about what the decision "might enable tomorrow".

For Trinity Lutheran, the bigger issue was the school's constitutional right to the free exercise of religion, which was a key point in oral arguments presented to the court in April.

A challenge to a 2015 court decision invalidating a Colorado voucher program is pending before the justices, awaiting the Trinity Lutheran case's outcome.

The case before the Supreme Court did not address school funding - in Idaho or anywhere. The last pages of the dissent are full of concerns about how the court has undermined secular government; dismantled, not strengthened, religious freedom; and led "to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment".

Roberts acknowledged that the stakes in the case seemed low. Citing various cases, Justice Roberts explained what this later clause entails, "The Free Exercise Clause "protect [s] religious observers against unequal treatment" and subjects to the strictest scrutiny laws that target the religious for "special disabilities" based on their "religious status'".


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