Tuesday, 22 August, 2017

SCOTUS Rules Religious School Can Use Taxpayer Dollars To Resurface Playground

Children play on the playground at the Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center in Columbia Mo Children play on the playground at the Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center in Columbia Mo. Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom
Francis Olson | 28 June, 2017, 15:07

The Department had a strict and express policy of denying grants to any applicant owned or controlled by a church, sect, or other religious entity, and when it ultimately awarded 14 grants as part of the 2012 program, the Trinity Lutheran Church Child Learning Center was not among the group.

The majority opinion mentions, but does not rule upon, language in the Missouri Constitution associated with the "Blaine Amendments" added to most state constitutions beginning in the late 19th century: "That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church".

Said Chief Justice John Roberts in the decision, "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 Supreme Court's decision in the Trinity Lutheran case "marks 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, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime proponent of voucher programs, said in a statement".

Several justices wrote separate opinions, differing on various legal points but agreeing with the main point of the ruling. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sotomayor argued that the decision radically changes what she believes was the previously held relationship between church and state. For now, the court has resoundingly affirmed that churches provide a great deal of public services going well beyond any explicitly religious mission and deserve to be treated like any other comparable charitable organizations in the public square.

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The Court's decision establishes that religious institutions with a secular intent may not be excluded from state programs.

Rather the justices decided the Missouri case by narrowly focusing on the fact that the preschool was turned down for a state grant for rubberizing its playground exclusively because it was run by a church. It prohibits states and the federal government from treating religious groups differently from other private organizations, but it does not require government funding of religious organizations.

"It is also significant that this understanding of the First Amendment was shared by seven members of the Court", Moreland said in a statement provided to The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Today the Supreme Court stood up for religious liberty around the country. But they emphasized that the court's majority opinion was narrowly written, and does not broach questions about whether taxpayer dollars may be used for religious purposes such as religious education. "The general principles here do not permit discrimination against religious exercise - whether on the playground or anywhere else".

The state program gives grants to nonprofits seeking a safer recreational environment for children. It instead asserts a right to participate in a government benefit program without having to disavow its religious character. "If religious freedom means anything, it is that government may not discriminate against churches exclusively because they are churches".

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