In a consequential and welcome decision for Christians and all people of faith, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a Missouri church.
The church, Trinity Lutheran Church, sued the state after being refused a grant to help repair its school’s playground. The Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, ruled that the state of Missouri violated the Constitution. (via Fox News)
In short, the state of Missouri launched an initiative to help encourage schools to recycle tires for playground materials, and Trinity Lutheran Church, which runs a preschool, was denied a grant to participate in the program.
Lawyers representing the church argued that they were being discriminated from participating in a public program on the basis of the school’s affiliated religion. As the Supreme Court hearing loomed, this closely watched case saw freedom of religion clashing against the notion of “separation of church and state” in court.
Only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. In an uncommon step, Sotomayor dissented from the bench, something that justices rarely end up doing. “The high court has never required a state to turn over taxpayer funds to a house of worship,” expressed the judge.
Justice John Roberts said, “The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.”
Justice Elena Kagan concurred with Roberts’ points, stating, “You’re denying one set of actors from competing because of religion.” She called it a “clear burden on a constitutional right.”
At the same time, there were arguments from the other side. James Layton, the former solicitor general for Missouri, argued the Constitution “does not guarantee churches opportunities for public financing,” and that it “remains free, without any public subsidy, to worship, teach, pray and practice any other aspect of its faith.”
In what was a surprising turn to some, Missouri’s Republican Governor Eric Greitens announced — just before oral arguments in April — that he intended to reverse the state policy and allow religious institutions to participate in the program.
Yet there may be more justification for this court decision then it initially seems, as there are already some states with the same restrictions as Missouri that already allow churches to participate in state programs that are public and that provide secular benefits such as health and safety. (via The Washington Post)
This case began back in January 2016, when Antonin Scalia was still alive, but his untimely death delayed the matter. This was likely because the eight judges at the time believed they would tie in a 4-4 decision. That meant the fate of this ruling, as well as many others to come in the future, would end up resting on the winner of the 2016 election, as each would be able to replace the late justice, and as such, shape the future path of the country.
With Trump’s election and his pick of Neil Gorsuch as Scalia’s replacement, conservatives still keep their hold over the Supreme Court — giving people of faith a hopeful future in the constitutional battles of tomorrow.