Religious liberty advocates divided over Supreme Court's Trinity Lutheran decision

Religious liberty advocates divided over Supreme Court's Trinity Lutheran decision

Religious liberty advocates divided over Supreme Court's Trinity Lutheran decision

The justices handed down the ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer on the last day of its 2016-2017 session, overturning lower court decisions and creating an exception to the Missouri Constitution's prohibition against funding houses of worship. Justice Sonia Sotomayor writing forcefully in dissent said the court is leading the country to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment.

Dan Mach, who directs its freedom of religion program, says direct grants to churches amount to the unconstitutional establishment of religion.

"The court held that Missouri's exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from the grant making process at stake here violated the Free Exercise Clause", said Hillary Byrnes, an assistant general counsel at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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In Hernandez vs. Mesa, the court in an unsigned opinion told the USA appeals court in New Orleans to take a second look at a border shooting case. Instead, Roberts highlighted the distinctions between the two cases; the 2004 case involved longstanding concern about state subsidy of the clergy, not merely the resurfacing of a playground. The ruling is likely to impact many types of religious institutions eligible to participate in a variety of social services and educational programs but which are now barred from doing so because they are religious.

On Monday, the justices ruled that churches could not be excluded from a state grant program for playground surfaces that was open to other charitable organizations.

"There is no question that Trinity Lutheran was denied a grant simply because of what it is".

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He added that "we have to deal with this in a comprehensive way and we are not close". And so we need to speak with one voice, with courage, conviction and honesty.

We had urged the court to hand down a narrow decision focused on the specific facts of the playground program.

Among the parties supporting the state's rejection of the application was the ACLU. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said excluding Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified exclusively because it is a church is odious to our Constitution. He said it had to do with the use of money for the playground rather than religious uses of funding more generally.

In the case, Trinity Lutheran found its school discriminated against because of its religious identity. (Word&Way/Brian Kaylor) Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, hailed the ruling as "a triumph for religious freedom". The Supreme Court ruled that in instances of secular intent, churches may receive assistance from state programs.

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The U.S. Supreme Court's recent decisions have cheered supporters of the voucher program, as Nic Garcia reported for Chalkbeat. "If the cases just described make one thing clear, it is that such a policy imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that triggers the most exacting scrutiny". The ruling may also have implications for future policy issues regarding funding for private, religious charter schools and other matters. "Thankfully, this decision went the right way and it accounts for that work to continue and not be threatened by further lawsuits that claim the government shouldn't be funding religious organizations".

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