The US 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. The outcome is, in all likelihood, a few extra scraped knees.
"The Supreme Court's decision today affirms that commonsense principle and the larger truth that government isn't being neutral when it treats religious organizations worse than everyone else".
It was perhaps the marquee case in a lackluster Supreme Court term dominated by the search for a ninth justice rather than landmark jurisprudence.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts explained although the state's policy "is nothing so dramatic as the denial of political office. 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".
The Trinity Lutheran case stems from efforts by the church to improve its preschool playground by applying in 2012 for Missouri's scrap-tire grant program, which provides money to install safe, rubberized ground coverings that provide an environmentally friendly use for old tires. It applied despite written regulations that barred state grants to religious institutions.
Missouri argued there was nothing unconstitutional about its grant program, noting that Trinity Lutheran remained free to practise its faith however it wants despite being refused state funds.
Chief Justice John Roberts said that it "is odious to our Constitution" to exclude the church from the grant program.
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Lawyers for the church school argued that the grant program was open to all not-for-profit schools, except religious ones. "It's funding the playground where students play".
Missouri is one of 39 states with such "Blaine amendments" in their state constitutions.
Trinity Lutheran had sued the state under its First Amendment right to free exercise of religion and its 14th Amendment equal-protection right.
Chief Justice John Roberts said for the court that the state violated the First Amendment by denying a public benefit to an otherwise eligible recipient exclusively on account of its religious status.
"This ruling is yet another breath of fresh air for those who value faith and freedom", said Dr.
The Missouri Constitution's ban on aid to religious schools is similar to provisions in another 36 states.
In an amicus brief, the United States bishops' conference warned that if the decision against the church had stood, it "would invite state officials to invoke those concerns as a pretext for penalizing religious groups whose beliefs or practices diverge from government-prescribed orthodoxy". And advocates of religious liberty have gone to court rather than seeking through the democratic process to get rid of the state constitutional provisions that bar all aid to religious schools. "This doesn't mean that taxpayer funds can now be used to fund religious instruction or any of [the] other parade of horribles that was raised by Trinity Lutheran's opponents".
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