The United States Supreme Court’s decision this week in the the “church playground” case didn’t just rule in favor of a small school in Missouri, the kind of blow for religious freedom that Americans wanted when they elected Donald Trump to the presidency.
In a 7-2 ruling, the high court’s ruling affirmed that the state cannot punish a church or organization simply because it is religious.
The case involved a preschool operated by Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri. The school applied for a reimbursement after they resurfaced their playground with rubber from recycled tires to create a safer area on which children could play.
The reimbursement the school applied for was open to all nonprofit organizations. However, the state of Missouri denied the preschool’s request citing that the playground was part of a school that was operated by a church.
Never mind the fact that the playground was open to all children in the community, not just the children who attended the school. Apparently, the state didn’t factor that in when they decided the school was ineligible for the reimbursement.
It’s worth noting that the school was rated as a top recipient for the grant, ranking fifth out of 44 applicants. Preventing the school from receiving the grant money came down to nothing more than religious discrimination.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the preschool, argued that “neutrality toward religion does not require that the government treat people and organizations of faith worse than everyone else. It just means they must treat them equally.”
Chief Justice John Roberts agreed and wrote: “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.”
Emily Kao, director of the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation, put it in perspective in a column published by The Daily Signal:
“When the government announces competitive programs to the public, including to improve public health, safety, and security, it must allow religious communities to compete on the basis of merit for those benefits,” she wrote.
“It is an unconstitutional violation of religious freedom to pressure religious communities to renounce their beliefs by threatening to exclude them from competition.
“All Americans should be able to compete fairly on a level playing field for assistance that will protect citizens’ lives and well-being. No government policy should pressure communities to renounce their beliefs (religious or otherwise) to qualify for such a benefit.”
Is “all Americans should be able to compete fairly” clear enough? The Supreme Court, by a strong majority, agreed.
Liberals, along with the ACLU, will be furious about this ruling but it is encouraging because it supports the notion that the government cannot bully religious organizations simply because they are religious.
Score one for the good guys.
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H/T The Daily Signal