Supreme Court Backs Church In Key Religious Rights Case

Children play on the playground at the Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center in Columbia Mo

The ruling of the court came in the case of Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia located in Missouri.

The 7-2 decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer today, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, said that the state may not target religious groups for inequitable treatment on the basis of religion when it comes to public program participation.

The potential for broadening what Roberts hoped would be a narrow decision is precisely what Sotomayor and Ginsburg were anxious about.

The Supreme Court accepted the church's petition for review back in January 2016, when Justice Antonin Scalia was still the senior conservative.

Missouri's constitution prohibits "any church, sect or denomination of religion" or clergy member from receiving state money, language that goes further than the U.S. Constitution's separation of church and state.

Justices Sotomayor argued in her dissent that the case "is about nothing less than the relationship between religious institutions and the civil government-that is, between church and state".

The United States Supreme Court in its ruling on June 26 stated that school playground grants funded by the USA taxpayer could be accessed by all non-profits, including one to a church run school.

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"The effect is, in all likelihood, a few extra scraped knees", Roberts wrote, finding that the state had indeed violated the First Amendment. Since the church would have otherwise qualified, the state's decision was held to violate the U.S. Constitution's prohibition on interference with the free exercise of religion.

Of particular interest for Court watchers was the fact this was the first significant religious liberty case for new associate justice Neil Gorsuch, who sided with the majority. "The court's reasoning sends a strong signal that just as the court would not tolerate the exclusion of a church from a playground resurfacing program, it will not tolerate the exclusion of a child from a school choice program exclusively because they want to use a scholarship at a religious school". This order can not be applied to other kinds of discrimination or religious utilization of funding. Seven of the nine justices ruled in favor of the church, eroding church-state separation, but a majority of the Court made clear that its ruling was a very narrow one.

A recycled scrap tire is not religious, the church said in its Supreme Court brief.

Just before the April oral argument, Missouri's Republican governor, Eric Greitens, reversed the state policy that had banned religious entities from applying for the grant money.

The court's opinion noted that the school was not claiming "any entitlement to a subsidy" but was asserting its "right to participate in a government benefit program without having to disavow its religious character".

"The Arkansas Supreme Court's decision, we conclude, denied married same-sex couples access to the 'constellation of benefits that the state has linked to marriage, '" the court said Friday. He's right. In 1947, for example, the court upheld a New Jersey law enabling a school district to reimburse parents for the public transportation costs of sending their children to parochial as well as public schools.