States Can't Exclude Churches From Grant Programs

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States Can't Exclude Churches From Grant Programs

In the case of Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the Courtdecidedin favor of Trinity Lutheran Church, ruling that the Lutheran preschool in Columbia, Missouri, was unfairly denied state funds to purchase rubber tires to resurface a playground due to its religious affiliation. "The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church", she added. In Monday's decision, the court said that states can't deny public benefits to religious institutions that are otherwise qualified. Trinity Lutheran, which runs a preschool and daycare center, had wanted a safer surface for its playground.

"We don't want a state empowered to referee between theologies and to privilege some religious ideologies over others, even if that ideology is secularism", Moore said in a written commentary.

"People of faith won an important victory today". The lawsuit was dismissed by the district court, which said the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from outlawing or restricting the exercise of a religious practice but does not prohibit withholding an affirmative benefit on account of religion.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged that "it is true the Department has not criminalized the way Trinity Lutheran worships or told the Church that it can not subscribe to a certain view of the Gospel".

By denying a benefit to a church school because of its avowedly religious character, he said, the state is penalizing the free exercise of religions guaranteed by the Constitution.

But Daniel Mach, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Program of Religion and Belief, said that "religious freedom should protect unwilling taxpayers from funding church property, not force them to foot the bill". He appointed former Missouri Solicitor General Jim Layton to represent the Department of Natural Resources in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The question over whether religious institutions should receive government funding has been widely debated since President George W. Bush proposed a faith-based initiative where religious groups could apply for funding to provide social services. In paying for the renovation of its playground, the state of Missouri relieves Trinity Lutheran Church of a financial burden, which frees the church to use those funds for explicitly sectarian purposes.

"This decision is significant because seven of the justices agreed that churches can't be treated as second-class citizens when it comes to widely available public safety benefits", said Smith.

"Today, the Court issued a strong decision in defense of religious freedom, reminding states that they can not exclude groups or individuals from public benefits simply due to their religion", said Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group based in Washington.

The Court leaves open the possibility a useful distinction might be drawn between laws that discriminate on the basis of religious status and religious use. Or did a group build the playground so it might be used to advance a religious mission?

In the majority opinion, the justices argue that excluding religious groups from this kind of state funding would discriminate against them based on religion.

DeVos said in a statement after the Supreme Court announced its decision that it was 'a great day for the Constitution and sends a clear message that religious discrimination in any form can not be tolerated in a society that values the First Amendment.

But Roberts wrote: "The department's policy expressly discriminates against otherwise eligible recipients by disqualifying them from a public benefit exclusively due to their religious character". The court said on Monday that the state's decision amounted to discrimination against the church just for being a church, calling it "odious to our Constitution".

Gorsuch dissented. This time he wrote for the trio of himself, Thomas and Alito: "The statute in question establishes a set of rules created to ensure that the biological parents of a child are listed on the child's birth certificate". The case had been ignored since January, with the court unable to find the fourth vote to earn it a review. In some states, school-choice advocates have crafted a way to get around those prohibitions: Tax-credit scholarships, which allow the government to indirectly - and therefore legally - support private and religious education.

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