Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered a powerful dissent defending church state separation after “the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that taxpayer-funded grants for playgrounds available to nonprofits under a state program could not be denied to a school run by a church”.
Despite the annotation, supporters of school choice saw the case as a victory that could possibly pave the way for vouchers to be used at religious schools.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said excluding Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit-for which it otherwise qualified-solely because of its religious character “is odious to our constitution”.
“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”.
Every person in Missouri – including people of faith – is required to pay a fee on every tire purchase and these fees fund the grant program. Trinity Lutheran’s application was rejected exclusively because it is a church, and the state constitution (like many other states) includes a “Blaine Amendment” that prohibits even indirect aid to churches.
A recycled scrap tire is not religious, the church said in its Supreme Court brief. The playground surface can not be confined to secular use any more than lumber used to frame the Church’s walls, glass stained and used to form its windows, or nails used to build its altar.
“I call churches getting public money when there isn’t enough to go to PUBLIC schools pretty vengeful”, Elie Mystal, “Above the Law” editor wrote.
“I worry that some might mistakenly read it to suggest that only “playground resurfacing” cases, or only those with some association with children’s safety or health, or perhaps some other social good we find sufficiently worthy, are governed by the legal rules recounted in and faithfully applied by the court’s opinion”, Gorsuch wrote.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today in favor of a Missouri church that was denied state funds for resurfacing a playground.
The case is Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri v. Pauley. This should have been a simple decision: It is clearly unequal treatment of religious Americans under the law to say “the reason you are ineligible for this benefit for which anyone else is eligible is that you are religious”. In April, we noted that the issue was whether Missouri can discriminate against religious institutions in public aid programs.
Missouri’s state constitution, like those in about three dozen states, forbade government from spending any public money on “any church, sect, or denomination of religion”.
Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, said the principle of “religious neutrality” applies “whether the government is enabling schools to resurface their playgrounds or empowering parents to direct their children’s education”. She is a hero for standing up for the U.S. Constitution and the separation of church and state.
This triggers the highest level of scrutiny under the Free Exercise Clause, and the majority concluded that the state’s interest in achieving greater church-state separation than (it says) is required by the First Amendment is not sufficiently compelling to warrant the resultant limitation on Free Exercise.