A preschool operated by Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri, applied for a state grant available to resurface the playground to make it safer for children. Government and private schools, and certain non-profit organizations can apply for the grant money.
But the state rejected Trinity’s application. Why? One guess.
The state’s constitution bars government funding to churches, and the state’s Department of Natural Resources interpreted the law to mean that a church can be denied an available public benefit based on religious status.
The church sued and lost in the district court and an appeals court.
The church appealed to the nation’s highest court, which just handed the plaintiff a victory. From Townhall (emphasis added):
The Supreme Court ruled today that this state policy violates the rights of Trinity Lutheran under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
Chief Justice Roberts explains in his opinion that “the Free Exercise Clause ‘protect[s] religious observers against unequal treatment’ and subjects to the strictest scrutiny laws that target the religious for ‘special disabilities” based on their ‘religious status.’”
“Applying that basic principle,” he writes, “this Court has repeatedly confirmed that denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that can be justified only by a state interest ‘of the highest order.’”
Justice Neil Gorsuch said he was “pleased to join nearly all of the Court’s opinion” in this case. The ruling was 7-2.
This religious freedom victory bodes well for another case. The high court decided to hear the case of Jack Phillips, Christian business owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado. He exercised his constitutional right not to make a cake for a homosexual “wedding.”
The men sued him, although they could have patronized other bakers in the area.
Lower courts rejected Phillips’s request to protect his religious and personal freedom not to perform a service he found objectionable.
Alliance Defending Freedom represents Phillips and Trinity Lutheran Church.
Attacks against people of faith and religious organizations are increasing. Christian business owners are being told they must leave their faith at home. Pro-life healthcare professionals are being told to perform abortions or lose their jobs. And churches are being told they must keep quiet on matters of biblical sexuality and open their private facilities to members of the opposite sex.
Alliance Defending Freedom advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith, without fear of government punishment. That’s why we defended Trinity Lutheran all the way to the Supreme Court and why we will continue to defend people and organizations of faith whose rights are being taken away – all free of charge.