Supreme Court sides with religious institutions in a major church-state decision

US Supreme Court sides with religious institutions in major church-state decision

US Supreme Court sides with religious institutions in major church-state decision

Carl Esbeck, University of Missouri professor of law emeritus, says the Supreme Court's ruling in the Trinity Lutheran Church case changes the narrative in the debate over state funds going towards religious schools.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who authored the opinion, wrote, "The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, exclusively because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution. and can not stand".

In a 7-2 ruling, the court held in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer that states can not prohibit churches from receiving otherwise generally available benefits based purely on their being a religious institution.

Several justices wrote separate opinions, differing on various legal points but agreeing with the main point of the ruling.

But the justices stopped short of saying whether the ruling applies to school voucher programs that use public funds to pay for private, religious schooling.

He argued that while the Constitution prevents the government from discriminating against religion, "it does not guarantee churches opportunities for public financing". Sotomayor read her dissent from the bench and argued that the ruling imperils the separation of church and state. Past Supreme Court decisions allowed public benefits to religious school students in the form of bus service, textbooks, scholarships and tuition vouchers, but permitted direct funding to religious groups only "with assurances that public funds would not be used for religious activity, despite the religious nature of the institution". The church had applied for a state grant in 2012 to resurface their playground. These constitutional provisions serve significant government interests - leaving the support of churches to church members, while also protecting houses of worship against discrimination and interference from the government.

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The Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer tested state constitution bans on all assistance to churches.

For Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg it meant that: "The court blinds itself to the outcome this history [of separation of church and state] requires and leads us instead to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment". Justices Thomas and Gorsuch disagree that a "useful distinction might be drawn between laws that discriminate on the basis of religious status and religious use". "The facts here are no different than the State sending inmates of a state prison to a church-affiliated hospital for medical care".

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled on what might seem like a local dispute - the funding of playground resurfacing. "The general principles here do not permit discrimination against religious exercise - whether on the playground or anywhere else".

Just four of nine justices have to vote "Yes" to take a case and Hasday says most votes are likely quick because of the sheer math involved.

Cortman said "the government should treat children's safety at religious schools the same as it does at nonreligious schools". How far does the First Amendment right to freely exercise our faith extend before it crashes into the amendment's other protection that the government not favor one set of religious beliefs?

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