Culture&Arts

States Can't Exclude Churches From Grant Programs

States Can't Exclude Churches From Grant Programs

At issue in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer was the school's denial of grant reimbursement to nonprofit groups for the cost of purchasing and installing playground surfaces using recycled tires through a state 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.

"T$3 he 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..., and can not stand", the Supreme Court wrote in its opinion.

"Today, the Court issued a strong decision in defense of religious freedom, reminding states that they can not exclude groups or individuals from public benefits simply due to their religion", said Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group based in Washington.

But Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, who voted with the majority, weren't buying the narrow "playground only" argument.

On Tuesday, the justices tossed out lower-court rulings in New Mexico and Colorado regarding the use of public money for religious institutions and asked state supreme courts for reconsideration.

The case, one of the most closely watched of the term, pitted two parts of the First Amendment against one another - freedom of religion and separation of church and state.




"Its decision slights both our precedents and our history, ad its reasoning weakens the country's longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both", she wrote.

The huge impact of today's ruling is that it says religious institutions can not be barred from participating in government programs simply because they are religious. On April 13, Missouri governor Eric Greitens reversed his position on grants for religious organizations, calling the state's prohibition a "prejudiced policy" in a statement.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USA bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, welcomed the Supreme Court's 7-2 decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer as a "landmark victory for religious freedom".

The justices ruled 7-2 on Monday in favor of the church. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a concurring opinion, meaning that, overall, seven of the nine Supreme Court justices sided with Trinity Lutheran.

The Supreme Court Justices took the side of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia. School-choice and religious-liberty advocates, emboldened by President Donald Trump's appointment of Gorsuch, are eager to get a school vouchers case before the court. They also would have held that the Free Exercise Clause allowed Missouri's exclusion of churches from the grant program. Citing various cases, Justice Roberts explained what this later clause entails, "The Free Exercise Clause "protect [s] religious observers against unequal treatment" and subjects to the strictest scrutiny laws that target the religious for "special disabilities" based on their "religious status'". "The general principles here do not permit discrimination against religious exercise - whether on the playground or anywhere else". They considered it significant that 38 states have constitutional provisions similar to Missouri's, which evidences to them that "public funding of houses of worship 'is of a different ilk'".


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