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Supreme Court Sides with Trinity Lutheran in Major Church-State Case

28 June 2017

"Applying that basic principle, this Court has repeatedly confirmed that denying a generally available benefit exclusively on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that can be justified only by a state interest 'of the highest order, '" he said.

Justice Sotomayor's dissent got it right - this case is about much more than a state program to use recycled tires to resurface a playground.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said excluding Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit-for which it otherwise qualified-solely because of its religious character "is odious to our constitution". "Only two justices in dissent held out for a strict separationist no-funding rule against religious institutions", he pointed out.

A closely watched Supreme Court case on the separation of church and state ended Monday in what likely amounts to a draw for advocates of school choice and civil libertarians.

"I don't think it moves the needle on school voucher cases", Gedicks said.

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The decision was supported by all the justices except Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor who wrote an opinion against it.

The outcome may be only "a few extra scraped knees", said Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., but denying the grant reflects an unconstitutional discrimination based on religion, he said. According to the liberal justices, the decision breaks the barrier between the church and state, and requires the state provide funds to the church.

Roberts was joined in most of his decision by five of his colleagues - justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Elena Kagan, and Gorsuch.

Since then, Republican Gov. Eric Greitens has changed the state policy to allow religious institutions to participate in the program but Monday's opinion could have an impact on other cases.

"The government should treat children's safety at religious schools the same as it does at nonreligious schools".

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The state defended its decision, citing the Missouri Constitution, which bars churches from receiving state funds. Seven of the nine justices ruled in favor of the church, eroding church-state separation, but a majority of the Court made clear that its ruling was a very narrow one.

Trinity Lutheran, which runs a preschool and daycare centre, wanted a safer surface for its playground.

"Today's decision by the Supreme Court marks a key victory for Americans' right to religious liberty, a fundamental freedom that we have enjoyed since the founding of our nation", said Blunt.

The State of Missouri denied the grant funding because the playground is owned by Trinity Lutheran, a religious organization.

The decision came on the same day that the court agreed to hear a major case about whether bakers can refuse to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples on the grounds of their religious beliefs. The ruling may also have implications for future policy issues regarding funding for private, religious charter schools and other matters.

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However, in his concurring opinion, Gorsuch expressed his doubts over the court's suggestion "the possibility a useful distinction might be drawn between laws that discriminate on the basis of religious status and religious use".

Supreme Court Sides with Trinity Lutheran in Major Church-State Case