The Supreme Court handed a major victory to religious schools on Monday, ruling 7-2 that Missouri went too far in refusing to allow a Lutheran church to receive state funds for playground resurfacing.
As Faithwire previously reported, the Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer case centered around a Missouri government program that provides grants for tire-based resurfacing to help make playgrounds safer for kids.
The Trinity Lutheran SCOTUS case is a 7-2 triumph for religious freedom. All Americans should celebrate this win for the First Amendment.
— Russell Moore (@drmoore) June 26, 2017
At the center of the dispute is a church-owned preschool’s claim that it was blocked from receiving a grant for these rubber playground materials due to its affiliation with Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri. Religious liberty law firm the Becket Fund has long argued that the case has some important First Amendment implications.
“The case will determine whether the government can blacklist religious organizations from participating in public safety programs simply because they are religious,” the statement read, in part.
USA Today has more about Monday’s verdict:
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the decision. Only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
It was perhaps the marquee case in a lackluster Supreme Court term dominated by the search for a ninth justice rather than landmark jurisprudence. Finally bolstered by the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch in April, 14 months after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the court clearly sided with the church during oral argument.
“It does seem as though … this is a clear burden on a constitutional right,” liberal Justice Elena Kagan said then, in reference to the state’s refusal to treat Trinity Lutheran Church equally to other non-profits seeking state grants. The church had met all the neutral criteria for the program.
Even before the Supreme Court’s Monday verdict, it was clear based on oral arguments that were held in April that justices on both sides of the aisle appeared to be troubled by Missouri’s rejection of Trinity Lutheran’s grant application.
Here is a link to the court's opinion in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer: https://t.co/GE4cIjqaDW
— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) June 26, 2017
As Deseret News reported last year, the legal battle touched off back in 2012 when the Trinity Lutheran Church Child Learning Center applied for a grant for the “Playground Scrap Tire Surface Material Grant Program,” which is offered by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
The school was apparently disqualified though, leading to a volleying legal challenge that has now reached the Supreme Court.
“No state can define religious neutrality as treating religious organizations worse than everyone else,” said David Cortman, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a statement last year. “That isn’t neutrality; it’s a hostility to religion that violates the First Amendment. That’s the primary issue that the Supreme Court will address.”
But those who supported the state’s initial stance believe that religious organization’s cannot take state money due to their sectarian roots. Interestingly, Missouri did an about-face last week, with new Republican Gov. Eric Greitens reversing the policy and now allowing churches to apply, USA Today reported.
Trinity Lutheran is 7-2, with Sotomayor and Ginsburg dissenting. And here's the footnote that lost Gorsuch and Thomas. pic.twitter.com/VQY0Xg92LH
— Mike Sacks (@MikeSacksEsq) June 26, 2017
Read more about the decision here.