Published: Thu, April 20, 2017
USA | By Angel Wallace

A case for preventing children's scraped knees

A case for preventing children's scraped knees

The case centers on a Missouri congregation that sought funds for its child learning center from a state program that awards a limited number of grants for playground improvements. In any event, the case will be an early and useful marker of the kind of Justice that Gorsuch will turn out to be.

Many speakers at the demonstration - as well as Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer - raised the same fire department question, wondering why a prohibition on the government cutting a check to a church would not also mean a prohibition on basic safety services.

The news comes just a day before the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearing arguments in the case.

Groups filing legal papers opposing Trinity Lutheran, including the American Civil Liberties Union, said government funding of churches is precisely what the Constitution forbids. "The state of Missouri has not only reversed its policy but decided not to follow the Missouri Constitution".

In January 2013, the state of Missouri denied Trinity Lutheran Church access to a program that provides recycled tires for playgrounds, on the grounds that it would violate the separation of church and state.

In court papers, the state said the ban did not impose a burden on the church's exercise of religion. "The Supreme Court has previously suggested that they can, where the funding would otherwise support religious activities". In an era of finite resources for education of any kind, the potential advantages of these subsidies for religious schools (and the peril to public schools, which stand to lose out if state education budgets have to be extended further) are dramatic if this trend accelerates.

"This religious exclusion wrongfully sends a message that some children are less worthy of protection simply because they enjoy recreation on a playground owned by a church", said David Cortman of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative organization representing Trinity Lutheran. "He very much was siding with religion, in terms of there being able to be more aid from government, siding with religion in terms of their challenges based on free exercise".

Upon seeing the governor's press release, the Supreme Court last Friday asked both sides to submit their views on whether there is still a live dispute, since the state of Missouri now agrees with the position taken by Trinity Lutheran. Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas were in dissent.

The groups argue that the interests of the church and the state are now "aligned, ending the controversy and depriving this case of proper adversarial presentation". The cases dealing with religious freedom are "similar enough that we can get a sense of how he might rule" in Trinity Lutheran, said Feldman, who found Gorsuch has frequently taken a "loose approach" to church/state separation.

Missouri is among about three dozen states whose constitutions bar public dollars from going to religious institutions.

Not only has the governor voiced his lack of support for his state's constitution, but the newly elected attorney general also has objected to the state's no-aid clause and recused himself from the case.

In his brief rebuttal, Cortman pointed out that there is no endorsement problem here because the state set out neutral, secular criteria for its grant program-criteria that Trinity Lutheran met. It has the thumbs up, for instance, from The Freedom from Religion Foundation, the ACLU, and the Satanic Temple. Asked Friday by the Supreme Court if Greitens' policy reversal affected the case which goes before the High Court Wednesday, lawyers on both sides of the issue are saying a permanent judicial solution is still necessary.

The case is being argued before the justices Wednesday - and it's being closely watched by proponents of school vouchers. In 2015, the top court in Colorado found that a voucher program started by Douglas County violated a constitutional provision mandated by the state. But the justices may not decide the case, after all. "That's just wrong", Greitens said in a statement.

Although Greitens said he didn't expect his decision to impact the Supreme Court case, the justices are asking the parties to respond to whether the case is now moot.

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