Playground Ruling Stops Slide of Religious Hostility

Guest Writer: Tony Perkins Family Research Council

It was the first major religious liberty case for Neil Gorsuch, and the new justice didn’t disappoint! In a string of positive developments at the Supreme Court, a Missouri church is celebrating a huge victory for its playground. By a 7-2 decision, the court rejected the arguments of people like Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who think Christians should be excluded from any job or partnership with the government.

Like a lot of churches in the area, Trinity Lutheran Church (which also houses a daycare and preschool) has an adjacent playground that needed refurbishing. So, the staff applied for a state grant through Missouri’s Scrap Tire Grant Program which helps reimburse groups for installing rubber safety flooring from recycled tires. In an odd twist, state officials denied Trinity’s request “even though the Missouri Department of Natural Resources ranked its application fifth out of the 44 submitted.” When the church inquired as to why they were turned down, they were told the state constitution barred the “public treasury” from aiding “any church, section, or denomination of religion.” That hardly seemed fair to the congregation, whose children need just as much outdoor padding as others.

The Supreme Court agreed, ruling that the government “should treat children’s safety at religious schools the same as it does at nonreligious schools.” As the majority wrote, “The express discrimination against religious exercise here is not the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the Church — solely because it is a church — to compete with secular organizations for a grant… In this case, there is no dispute that Trinity Lutheran is put to the choice between being a church and receiving a government benefit. The rule is simple: No churches need apply.”

A religious test shouldn’t be used for public service, and it shouldn’t be used for public funding either! FRC’s Travis Weber congratulated our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom for the win and looked forward to continuing the court’s recent trend of protecting religious liberty.

“Certainly the Framers never meant to exclude churches from public life in the way the state of Missouri and lower courts have here. With the recent addition of Justice Gorsuch, we are much more optimistic about the future of religious freedom in America. The Supreme Court rightly found that the freedom of religion, including that of Trinity Lutheran, is clearly protected by the Constitution. Justice Gorsuch’s presence will re-enforce a welcome originalist voice in not just the Trinity Lutheran case but also plenty of pivotal cases in the decades to come.”

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