That next case has been sitting on the the Supreme Court’s docket for more than a year, and this morning Doyle v. Taxpayers for Public Education was remanded to the Colorado Supreme Court for a decision based on Trinity Lutheran.
As a nation, we are always testing the limits of religious liberty and the strength of the wall between church and state.
The state wrongly denied the church “an otherwise available public benefit on account of its religious status“, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissented from the decision altogether – and Sotomayor took the rare step of reading her decision from the bench to voice her disagreement with the court’s ruling.
As an atheist – the Supreme Court got this one (re the church playground) RIGHT. “We should all celebrate the fact that programs created to help students will no longer be discriminated against by the government based exclusively on religious affiliation”, she said in a written statement. While I strongly reject the idea that the wall between church and state was built to keep religion out of the public square, it is clear that this case isn’t just about playgrounds.
Today, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that Trinity Lutheran Church can’t be denied a state playground refurbishment subsidy simply because it’s a religious institution. The outcome is, in all likelihood, a few extra scraped knees.
That case, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley, was decided Monday and this morning the federal justices sent four public education-type cases back to the originating states for reconsideration – including New Mexico’s.
“The State of Missouri has excluded The Learning Center from a recycling program that provides a safer playground for children exclusively because the preschool is operated by a church rather than a secular not-for-profit”, the church’s lawyer argued before the high court last April. How far does the First Amendment right to freely exercise our faith extend before it crashes into the amendment’s other protection that the government not favor one set of religious beliefs?
Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor with The Catholic Association, called the ruling “a significant victory for fairness and government neutrality towards religious institutions”. “We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination”, Roberts said in the opinion’s footnote 3.
In 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down DCSD’s school voucher program, saying it violated the Blaine Amendment in the Colorado constitution.
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”.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it will hear Jack Phillips’ lawsuit challenging Colorado anti-discrimination laws.