Supreme Court rules for Missouri church in playground case

Supreme Court rules for Missouri church in playground case”

WASHINGTON-The U.S. Supreme Court reduced the wall of separation between church and state Monday in one of the most important rulings on religious rights in decades.

Monday's ruling said Missouri was wrong to exclude Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri from a program meant to help non-profits cover their gravel playgrounds with a rubber surface made from recycled tires.

In denying the church's bid for public funding, Missouri cited its constitution that bars "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.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Missouri, the plaintiff in a potential landmark First Amendment case at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Chief Justice John Roberts said for the court that it "is odious to our Constitution" to exclude the church from the grant program.

The justices on Monday ruled 7-2 in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joined the opinion with the exception of a footnote reading as follows: "This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing".

In 2012, Trinity Lutheran applied for a grant to modify the playground surface at the church's Learning Center, but their grant was rejected later that year.

Some states with the same restriction as Missouri already allow churches to participate in programs that are generally applicable to the public and are for secular benefits such as health and safety.

Alliance Defending Freedom took up the cause for the church and is fighting the state's decision in court. Moreover, he said the government in this case "is not being asked to fund a religious activity". The Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution, in its own words, forbids only government action that prohibits the free exercise of religion; it does not require the government to subsidize churches or provide equal funding opportunities to religious and non-religious groups alike.

"Before we came into office, government bureaucrats were under orders to deny grants to people of faith who wanted to do things like make community playgrounds for kids".

The Missouri Constitution's ban on aid to religious schools is similar to provisions in another 36 states.

"If Trinity Lutheran wins, state and local governments will be required to give taxpayer funds to churches, synagogues and mosques", stated Americans United before the decision was released.

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