DeVos weighs in on Supreme Court church decision

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

Despite the 7-2 ruling in favor of allowing a Missouri church to use public funds, the Supreme Court added a brief footnote to its majority decision that helped it to avoid any larger questions about the constitutionality of funneling state money to religious organizations.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri, applied for a state grant to make its playground safer for children in its preschool and daycare program.

John Roberts, the Chief Justice, said that the state court made a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution when it denied public the benefit to a fully eligible recipient only on account of the entity's religious status.

This morning, the Supreme Court released its ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, an important church-state separation case involving a Missouri prohibition on direct payments by the government to a house of worship. Neither was Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote a passionate dissent in which she was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

"The Supreme Court is sharply signaling in this decision that the government must stop its growing hostility towards religion and religious institutions, and that antiquated and anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments should not be used as a weapon to discriminate against people of faith".

Missouri's state constitution, like those in about three dozen states, forbade government from spending any public money on "any church, sect, or denomination of religion".

Sotomayor, who read a portion of her dissent from the bench, said the ruling "slights both our precedents and our history, and its reasoning weakens this country's longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both". In April, we noted that the issue was whether Missouri can discriminate against religious institutions in public aid programs.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the decision "marks a great day for the Constitution and sends a clear message that religious discrimination in any form can not be tolerated in a society that values the First Amendment".

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Rather the justices decided the Missouri case by narrowly focusing on the fact that the preschool was turned down for a state grant for rubberizing its playground exclusively because it was run by a church.

It's one of the first major cases to be decided since Donald Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, took his place on the bench.

Justice Stephen Breyer also agreed with the outcome, but did not join either opinion.

The potential for broadening what Roberts hoped would be a narrow decision is precisely what Sotomayor and Ginsburg were anxious about. Future cases will decide whether the case has not gone far enough to protect religious freedom or has gone so far to erode the wall of separation between church and state that it will come tumbling down to the detriment of both.

"The general principles here do not permit discrimination against religious exercise whether on the playground or anywhere else", Gorsuch said.

"Today's decision by the Supreme Court marks a key victory for Americans' right to religious liberty, a fundamental freedom that we have enjoyed since the founding of our nation", said Blunt.

Cortman said "the government should treat children's safety at religious schools the same as it does at nonreligious schools".

The church challenged the decision, claiming the denial violated the Establishment clause of the First Amendment.

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