Cruz Addresses Trinity Lutheran: 'We Must Win This Case'

Louis Holland
April 20, 2017

Discrimination against the church is a "clear burden on a constitutional right", Justice Elena Kagan said, because "people of a certain religious status are being prevented from".

The state constitutions of Missouri and about three dozen other states prohibit spending public funds on church schools or other religious organizations. "And I would have thought that that's a pretty strong principle in our constitutional law".

But Trinity Lutheran and its lawyer argued protecting kids on a playground isn't going to promote religion and shouldn't be discriminated against. Other properties of non-profits and secular institutions are eligible for the program.

In 2012, the Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia had been one of 44 preschools that applied for reimbursement under the Missouri Scrap Tire Grant Program, which uses recycled tires for playground resurfacing.

"Before we came into office, government bureaucrats were under orders to deny grants to people of faith who wanted to do things like make community playgrounds for kids".

Synagogues, mosques and religious schools have received funding under that programme, according to a brief filed by a Jewish group supporting the church's position. The Supreme Court has upheld similar funding prohibitions in the past, but here the church insists that its school was denied funding exclusively on account of its religious status - and that the funds it sought for tire scraps should've been granted because they wouldn't be used for religious instruction. "They're just saying, 'We don't want to be involved with the church, ' " she said.

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A challenge to a 2015 court decision invalidating a Colorado voucher programme is pending before the justices, awaiting the Trinity Lutheran case's outcome.

Trinity Lutheran's insistence that its playground resurfacing project is secular does not solve the problem, adds the state, because money is fungible, and because the church's religious intent is stated specifically in the Learning Center's mission.

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor took exception to Cortman's argument that Missouri's program interfered with the right to free religious exercise. It also could buttress the case for using publicly funded vouchers to send children to religious schools.

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".

Layton, in an interview, said he will rely most heavily on a 2004 case from Washington state when the court decided the state could deny a scholarship to a student seeking a divinity degree.

As Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, announced from the podium, "everyone agrees" that "this is the largest, most seminal and most important religious freedom case" to be argued in the court's current session. Even though Missouri is one of 39 states across the country that now have restrictions on the state support of churches, last week, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, spoke out against the restriction. Mr Layton did not explain why a church would gloat over the fact the state had paid for its new rubberised playground surface; nor did he mention the constitutional significance.

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The money saved can then be used by the church for any objective - including proselytizing, printing worship materials, paying clergy, or getting wonderful flower arrangements for Easter Sunday.

One week on the job, Gorsuch-along with his colleagues on the bench-will hear a case on religious rights, via @RNS.

"The Governor of the Director of DNR - or, more likely, one of their successors - could reinstate the previous policy just as easily as the new policy was adopted", Hawley's letter said.

To put it plainly, Missouri took the position that it had the right to create programs that have nothing at all to do with religion but then withhold the benefits of those programs from religious institutions exclusively because they are religious.

Alito asked Missouri's lawyer, James Layton, if religious entities would be barred from applying if Missouri had a similar program.

But the justices showed little or no interest in that option during Wednesday's argument.

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Gorsuch, who in seminal cases as an appeals judge has forced government to accommodate religious practice whenever reasonable, should answer no - and so should his colleagues.

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