Supreme Court rules for Missouri church in playground case

US top court set to rule on religious rights; travel ban looms

US Supreme Court set to rule on religious rights as travel ban looms

Gedicks and many others following the case expected this outcome, which resolves the most high-profile religious freedom issue before the Supreme Court this term.

In 2012, Missouri disqualified Trinity Lutheran from a scrap tire program for playgrounds because the state Constitution prohibits spending taxpayer money "directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion". Missouri is one of approximately three dozen states with a constitutional ban on spending state money on any religious institution.

Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas chose not sign onto a footnote that said the court's approval of funding for Trinity Lutheran only applied to playground funding and not parochial schools overall. He knew that the Trinity decision would likely be narrow.

Justice Sonya Sotomayor took the rare step of reading her dissent from the bench, saying the ruling weakens America's longstanding commitment to separation of church and state.

"This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing", he wrote. Stanford law professor Michael McConnell, a former federal judge, says provisions in other state constitutions that bar direct aid to churches will not be affected by this ruling because this is about state funding for a secular goal.

"In the modern world, the state is quite powerful in giving out money, and if it gives out money only to secular institutions ... you're not being neutral", McGinnis said.

The ruling could help religious organizations nationwide win public dollars at least for certain purposes, such as health and safety. Supporters say charter schools provide students from poor areas with a better choice.

"What happened here was a program that had nothing to do with religion, yet Trinity Lutheran was singled out because of its religious status", Stanley said.

"Our side is ecstatic with the results", Laszloffy said.

"The Supreme Court is sharply signaling in this decision that the government must stop its growing hostility towards religion and religious institutions, and that antiquated and anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments should not be used as a weapon to discriminate against people of faith".

"It's hard to know what all the other justices are thinking", he said. That could mean they're comfortable with applying their decision in this case to school vouchers.

Justice Stephen Breyer made a similar point in his separate decision, although he only concurred in the court's judgment in the case.

The funds to the school has been denied due to Missouri's "Blaine Amendment", named for late 19th century ME congressman James Blaine. "I would be absolutely shocked if we lose this case at the federal level".

Liberty Counsel filed an amicus brief in the U. S. Supreme Court, on its own behalf and for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference-CONEL, to end discrimination against churches.

This leaves the ruling up to broad interpretation, emboldening advocates of school choice and vouchers, a policy supported by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who President Donald Trump appointed to carry out his education agenda. 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. "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".

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