Wednesday, 20 February, 2019

US Supreme Court Rules States Can Fund Some Religious School Programs

Melinda Barton | 29 June, 2017, 08:57

By a 7-2 vote, the justices sided with Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, which had sought a state grant to put a soft surface on its preschool playground.

Civil liberties groups called the ruling a blow to the principle of church-state separation. The U.S. Supreme Court has held the case for almost two years as it considered the Missouri case, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer.

Justice Sotomayor's dissent got it right - this case is about much more than a state program to use recycled tires to resurface a playground. In April, we noted that the issue was whether Missouri can discriminate against religious institutions in public aid programs.

The U.S. Supreme Court has wrapped up its current term with a draft of opinion, some with potentially historic ramifications. S., at 405. The express discrimination against religious exercise here is not the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the Church -solely because it is a church - to compete with secular organizations for a grant.

Justice Stephen Breyer also wrote a concurrence to the judgment.

The justices agreed to hear a case involving a Colorado court's decision to consider whether a baker can refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple because he objects to same- sex marriage based on his Christian beliefs.

Neither was Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote a passionate dissent in which she was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They can be restricted, however, based on how those funds would be used.

Daniel Mach, head of the freedom of religion program for the ACLU, in a written statement said, "Religious freedom should protect unwilling taxpayers from funding church property, not force them to foot the bill". About 38 states have similar provisions known as Blaine amendments.

Catholic leaders applauded Monday's ruling.

The First Amendment's separation of church from state is an essential part of self-government.

Opponents often use the state's Blaine Amendment to fight controversial issues like school voucher programs and placing the Ten Commandments monument on capitol grounds.

Gov. Eric Greitens praised the decision as well, saying: "People of faith won an important victory today".

"The Arkansas Supreme Court's decision, we conclude, denied married same-sex couples access to the 'constellation of benefits that the state has linked to marriage, '" the court said Friday. "This case reaffirms that proposition that the State may not single out religious institutions for discrimination".

Members of Congress also weighed in on the decision.

"This win for Trinity Lutheran Church is a win for the freedoms that Americans have long exercised", said Travis Weber, FRC's Director of the Center for Religious Liberty. Missouri's attorney general recused himself in the case.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has not subjected anyone to chains or torture on account of religion.

The Anti-Defamation League, in conjunction with seven other groups, presented a friend-of-the-court brief going against the ruling. Without referring to the provision as such, the court ruled that Missouri's asserted interest in complying with this state constitutional provision "is limited by the Free Exercise Clause". Even in her opening paragraph, she insisted that the decision "slights both our precedents and our history, and its reasoning weakens this country's longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both".

Chief Justice Roberts dealt with the matter in straightforward fashion. Missouri argued there was nothing unconstitutional about its grant program, noting that Trinity Lutheran remained free to practice its faith however it wants despite being refused state funds.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church.

For their part, the US bishops praised the ruling. "Today's decision does just that".