Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS) of Columbia, Missouri, won its case at the Supreme Court. The state of Missouri had denied its application for a program to use shredded rubber to make its playground more safe, invoking a state law against taxpayer money going to a religious institution.
Said Chief Justice John Roberts in the decision, “the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.”
The vote was 7-2, with Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg dissenting.
This was the second Missouri Synod congregation to successfully petition the Supreme Court in an important church/state case. In 2012, the court ruled that Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church could define its “ministers” as it wishes, throwing out a discrimination suit from a teacher in its school who was fired.
The Supreme Court ended its term Monday with a major First Amendment decision, ruling that efforts at separating church and state go too far when they deny religious institutions access to government grants meant for a secular purpose.In siding with a Missouri church that had been denied money to resurface its playground, the court ruled 7-2 that excluding churches from state programs for which other charitable groups are eligible is a violation of the Constitution’s protection of the free exercise of religion.
“The consequence is, in all likelihood, a few extra scraped knees,” wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. “But the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.”
Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., brought the case because it was excluded from a state program that reimburses the cost of rubberizing the surface of playgrounds. The church scored high in the grant process, but Missouri’s state constitution, like those in about three dozen states, forbade government from spending public money on “any church, sect, or denomination of religion.”
Image Credit: Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States, Photographer: Franz Jantzen