Religious groups speak outside SupCo in case involving a Missouri church

Religious groups speak outside SupCo in case involving a Missouri church”

Sotomayor said: "This church is not going to close its religious practices or its doors because its playground doesn't have these tires". The playground's base of sharp-edged pea gravel and grass endangers the 30 to 40 children who play there during a typical recess, church officials say.

Trinity Lutheran Church applied for a grant to resurface its preschool playground.

Even neutral criteria can functionally favor, for example, big churches or denominations over smaller ones, Mach says.

It was less certain, however, that the justices would issue a sweeping ruling that state constitutional amendments barring aid to religion had to give way to federal free exercise of religion concerns that would affect other issues, such as vouchers and tax credits for private religious schools.

The case, which examines the limits of religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution, is one of the most important before the court in its current term.

At the argument, lawyers for both sides faced a very active bench. State Arguments specialist. He's been following this case for some time. The Court agreed to hear Trinity's appeal well over a year ago, shortly before Justice Scalia passed away.

University of Notre Dame Law professor Richard Garnett said separation of church and state "is supposed to advance religious freedom, by keeping the government from interfering in religious affairs; it is not supposed to be a warrant for crude discrimination". He explained that the justices should look at where the money would be going-to a secular activity.

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Answering that question required the justices to consider doctrinal crosscurrents, including what earlier cases have called "the play in the joints" between two clauses of the First Amendment, which bar government establishment of religion and guarantee its free exercise.

Justice Kagan then asked if Missouri's action falls within this space between the two clauses. Nearly 40 other states have similar provisions that could be affected if the Court rules in favor of the church.

Some of the justices were clearly concerned about how far states could take these "no aid" provisions.

"Essentially this is a program open to everyone", Justice Elena Kagan told James Layton, a lawyer representing Missouri.

The ACLU said the Supreme Court should dismiss the Trinity Lutheran Case.

"As long as you're using the money for playground services, you're not disentitled from that program because you're a religious institution doing religious things", she said of the case at hand. But when state bureaucrats noticed Trinity Lutheran was a religious organization, it tossed out the church's application, saying separation of church and state means no state money can go for anything to do with religious groups.

Chief Justice John Roberts asked if the state could offer tours of its capitol building to student groups, but exclude groups from religious schools.

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But the question of where the dividing line should be between church and state is complicated, said the NEA's O'Brien.

Reed stated, "If essentially secular programs are allowed to be banned for people of faith simply due to their religious faith, that's a pretty bad precedent to set that could be used by governments at the state and local level to discriminate against religion in all kinds of other ways".

Layton fell back on the claim that since this involved a physical improvement to Trinity Lutheran's property, it's on the wrong side of the line and looks like state endorsement of religion. The issue was discussed only briefly during the oral argument, suggesting the justices are eager to decide the case on the merits.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which administers the scrap tire program, had enough money to fund playground resurfacing for 14 of the 44 applicants.

Justice Stephen Breyer asked whether the U.S. Constitution would permit a state to deprive churches of police protection or let them burn down.

Judging by Gorsuch's track record on ruling in cases concerning religious liberty, Trinity Lutheran may be feeling optimistic. "No one is asking the church to change its beliefs".

The church challenged the denial in court, appealing all the way to the Supreme Court.

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"The number of questions from a broad range of justices exposed the silliness of the state's position here", Weber stated. This appears to be an attempt to circumvent the state's long-established constitutional position and the First Amendment.

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