Monday, 25 September, 2017

Supreme Court Seems to Back Church School in Missouri Case

With Trump pick Neil Gorsuch aboard, Supreme Court tackles religious rights The Supreme Court will decide whether states can provide financial aid to religious institutions
Howard Terry | 20 April, 2017, 00:11

In order to make upgrades to the playground's surface as a safety measure, the church applied for a grant through a state program that provides materials from used tires to resurface playgrounds. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear argument in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc., v. Sara Parker Pauley, which challenges the constitutionality of Blaine Amendments under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Oral arguments are expected in Washington, D.C., next week.

"It does seem this is a clear burden on a constitutional right", Justice Elena Kagan told Missouri's attorney, James R. Layton, adding that "you're depriving one set of actors from being able to compete in the same way everyone else can compete due to their religious identification".

James Layton, special assistant attorney general for Missouri, argued in briefs that "the people of Missouri have decided, as a matter of state constitutional policy, that public funds may not be directed to churches".

Last week, Gov. Eric R. Greitens, a Republican who took office this year, reversed state policy and said churches and religious organizations would be eligible for the grants.

"Why isn't this case moot?" Cortman emphatically said no, highlighting the anti-Catholic bigotry that animated the passage of many of these laws.

"Because (the church) has received all the relief that it has requested - eligibility to compete for future grants from the Department of Natural Resources - there is no live controversy, and the case is moot", AU and the ACLU wrote to the court.

This is clearly singling out a religious organization, with no justification.

The grant program was open to not-for-profit preschools, a group that includes Trinity Lutheran, Cortman said. He doubted the Framers of the Constitution would have barred ministers from using public roads on their way to church. The release also noted that former Missouri Solicitor General will represent the Department of Natural Resources in front of the nation's high court.

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. He is known to have accepted a broader view of all religious rights during his time as a court judge in the Colorado federal appeals court. Even so, a court decision could reach far.

Three-quarters of the US states have similar provisions as the Missouri constitution. Trinity Lutheran Church, which operates a preschool in the central Missouri town of Columbia, was one of 44 applicants for funding in 2012. While the free exercise clause requires that the state not interfere with the church's activities, it does not require state funding, he said.

"Like all Missourians, we want better and safer schools for our children", said Daniel Lefton of Epstein Hebrew Academy, "Through the implementation of this policy, the governor is making that happen".

By allowing religious groups to apply to receive grants from the government, it puts government employees in the impossible position of having to choose which religious organizations to support with taxpayers' money. "Once it included the group that includes Trinity, we think it is wrong to eliminate them exclusively for religious reasons", he said.

The state's rationale for allowing the case to go forward closely resembles the church's, right down to the cases that it cites.

If the high court rules in favor of the church, Michael Bindas of the Institute for Justice, which supports the church, says it could result in a major shift in the law on churches and public funding.

Trinity Lutheran is "one of the most important religious liberty cases before the Supreme Court in years", said Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, who ran a rally outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday. Wednesday's argument date was finally set February 17, shortly afterGorsuch's nomination. A month later, Justice Antonin Scalia died, leaving the court shorthanded and creating the possibility of a 4-4 split. Wolff asked. "I'm sure the justices will be asking that question right away".

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