Foundation Claims Victory in Church Playground Case

Foundation Claims Victory in Church Playground Case

Foundation Claims Victory in Church Playground Case

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and other proponents of school voucher programs are praising a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said a Lutheran church was wrongly denied a state grant for its preschool playground. This triggers the highest level of scrutiny under the Free Exercise Clause, and the majority concluded that the state's interest in achieving greater church-state separation than (it says) is required by the First Amendment is not sufficiently compelling to warrant the resultant limitation on Free Exercise. "The opinion went as far as to say it is "odious to our Constitution" to exclude a church-run preschool and eliminate it from a public grant program exclusively because it is a faith-based organization". The outcome is, in all likelihood, a few extra scraped knees. But the state constitution bars the use of public funds for churches, so the application was denied.

"The government should treat children's safety at religious schools the same as it does at nonreligious schools", said David Cortman, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a statement.

"After all, that Clause guarantees the free exercise of religion, not just the right to inward belief (or status)", he wrote.

It's worth noting too that only Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.

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Although the state highly ranked Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center as qualified for the program (fifth out of 44 nonprofit applicants), it denied the center's application exclusively because a church runs the preschool.

This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing.

"Whereas new justices usually take a beat before they start opining on every issue the court does (and doesn't) address, Justice Gorsuch has asserted his exceptionally conservative views early and often across a dizzying range of hot-button issues", said Joshua Matz, a lawyer and former clerk to Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The huge impact of today's ruling is that it says religious institutions can not be barred from participating in government programs simply because they are religious.

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The case arose from an application the church submitted in 2012 to take part in Missouri's scrap-tire grant program, which reimburses the cost of installing a rubberized playground surface made from recycled tires.

The Colorado Supreme Court found that the program violated the state constitution by providing aid to religious institutions. In a separate opinion, Gorsuch, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, clarified that the case should be applied broadly throughout the country to make it clear discrimination against religious practice isn't tolerated on the playground or anywhere else.

"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 their dissent. They told the justices the program was a ploy to provide public funds to religious schools "cloaked as a federal constitutional right". And the Court agreed that the government can not to discriminate against people of faith by treating them unequally. Trinity said the playground was for kids at the church's daycare, but was denied reimbursement.

The Eighth District U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed that decision on a split vote, but the high court's ruling reversed that ruling.

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