Supreme Court rules for Missouri church in playground case

US top court set to rule on religious rights; travel ban looms

US top court set to rule on religious rights; travel ban looms

"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 John G. Roberts, reversing the lower courts ruling. Roberts said that's true even though the consequences are only "a few extra scraped knees". 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.

The decision was 7-2, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissenting.

At oral argument, the lawyer defending the law seemed to face an uphill battle in defending the exclusion of church groups from a program with only a secular goal - making playgrounds safer - and for which Trinity's Learning Center would have been approved had it been a secular preschool.

In a decision released Monday morning in the case of Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, the highest court in the nation concluded that Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia should not be barred from a state program meant to help fix their daycare playground, reversing a lower court decision.

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Some states with the same restriction as Missouri already allow churches to participate in programs that are generally applicable to the public and are for secular benefits such as health and safety.

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

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which administers the grant program, had enough money to fund 14 of the 44 applicants.

"The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion". Thus, they said, religious schools were being treated "worse than everyone else", as David Cortman, an attorney with of Alliance Defending Freedom, put it. Moreover, he said the government in this case "is not being asked to fund a religious activity". The state rejected their application, citing a strict policy against funding programmes controlled by a religious entity.

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"Before we came into office, government bureaucrats were under orders to deny grants to people of faith who wanted to do things like make community playgrounds for kids".

Without getting into the weeds, the footnote does not represent the official opinion of the Court.

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

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