August 17, 2017

Supreme Court rules for Missouri church in playground case

26 June 2017, 06:00 | Doyle Barker

The empty playground at Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia Mo. shown in January 2016

The empty playground at Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia Mo. shown in January 2016

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sided with a church that objected to being denied public money in Missouri, potentially lessening America's separation of church and state by allowing governments more leeway to fund religious entities directly. Roberts said that's true even though the consequences are only "a few extra scraped knees".

The case is Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri v. Pauley.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joined the opinion with the exception of a footnote reading as follows: "This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing".

The decision could doom provisions in 39 states that prohibit spending tax dollars to support churches.

". The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, exclusively because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and can not stand", wrote Chief Justice Roberts.

Monday's ruling said Missouri was wrong to exclude Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri from a program meant to help non-profits cover their gravel playgrounds with a rubber surface made from recycled tires.

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In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, "If this separation means anything, it means that the government can not, or at the very least need not, tax its citizens and turn that money over to houses of worship".

Missouri turned down the church's funding application because of a provision in its state constitution that says, "No money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion".

In 2012, Trinity Lutheran applied for a grant to modify the playground surface at the church's Learning Center, but their grant was rejected later that year. In its policies against religious favouritism, the court found, the state came dangerously close to preventing the free exercise of religion.

Supreme Court rules for church that wanted...

Lawyers for the church school argued that the grant program was open to all not-for-profit schools, except religious ones. Reversing the state policy, he said religious organizations must now be permitted to apply for and be eligible for state grants. Moreover, he said the government in this case "is not being asked to fund a religious activity". Some claimed that state bans like Missouri's were rooted in anti-Catholic bigotry and modeled after an effort by Rep. James G. Blaine, who unsuccessfully proposed a federal constitutional amendment in 1875 to ban government aid to churches.

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