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Nation's high court rightly rules playground is not a pulpit

28 June, 2017, 15:09 | Author: Mae Harvey
  • Children play on the playground at the Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center in Columbia Mo

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources violated the rights of a church preschool by denying it a grant to resurface its playground with rubber from recycled tires.

Trinity Lutheran Church, which is located in Columbia, Mo., filed suit after being denied public funds to replace its preschool playground's gravel surface with a softer, safer material.

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.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch wrote separately to say they would not have limited the ruling to playground resurfacing or related issues that involve children's safety or health. "This case is about nothing less than the relationship between religious institutions and the civil government - that is, between church and state", Sotomayor wrote in her dissent.

In her dissent, Sotomayor said the court "has never required a state to turnover taxpayer funds" a church or other house of worship and to do so "discounts centuries of history and jeopardizes the government's ability to remain secular". "We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination", Roberts said in the opinion's footnote 3.

Voucher opponents said they were disappointed by the court's decision to allow public money to go to a religious facility, saying it chipped away at the separation of church and state.

"Earlier this year, I reversed Missouri's policies that discriminated against religious organizations, the ACLU and others attacked our decision". Over 30 states have Blaine Amendments preventing religious schools from receiving any public funding, and McGinnis said school choice advocates might get support from parochial schools seeking additional funding.

Foundation Senior Counsel John Eidsmoe (photo) added: "Trinity Lutheran Church did not seek any special benefits from the State of Missouri". They argue that the same facts may be described both ways and doubt the Free Exercise Clause should care because it concerns the exercise of religion.

Defending this bigotry was Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an organization that was itself founded as an anti-Catholic institution in the 1940s. Chief Justice Roberts affirmed Trinity's claim in the official opinion of the court, citing similar SCOTUS decisions from the past.

Gorsuch countered that understanding of the case, writing that "the general principles here do not permit discrimination against religious exercise-whether on the playground or anywhere else. And the court agreed that the government can not discriminate against people of faith by treating them unequally".

"The decision does not create a free exercise right to government funding of religion, but it unnecessarily blurs the line that ensures religion flourishes on its own". Equal treatment of a religious organization in a program that provides only secular benefits, like a partial reimbursement grant for playground surfacing, isn't a government endorsement of religion.


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