Prelate: Supreme Court's Trinity Lutheran decision is 'landmark victory for religious freedom'


Dan Mach, who directs its freedom of religion program, says direct grants to churches amount to the unconstitutional establishment of religion.

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

"The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church", Sotomayor wrote in the dissent that she delivered from the bench. "Religious freedom should protect unwilling taxpayers from funding church property, not force them to foot the bill", he said.

By a 7-2 margin, the high court agreed that Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo., should not have been excluded from a state grant in 2012. Rather than "claiming any entitlement to a subsidy", Trinity Lutheran "instead asserts a right to participate in a government benefit program without having to disavow its religious character".

That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, as such; and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.
The decision also marks a step in the right direction toward limiting the effects of the pernicious Blaine Amendments that are in place in many states around the country.

Though the decision's practical implications for Catholic schools remain unclear, the National Catholic Educational Association issued a statement on June 27 applauding the court's call.

Missouri had turned down the church's application for the playground grant by citing its state constitution, which forbids sending tax money to churches and church-run institutions.

Among the parties supporting the state's rejection of the application was the ACLU. The contentious footnote explained the court's ruling was narrowed to only address "playground resurfacing", but not other "religious uses of funding".

Its lawyers argued the state's action constituted religious discrimination in violation of the federal Constitution's Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses.

The U.S. Supreme Court's recent decisions have cheered supporters of the voucher program, as Nic Garcia reported for Chalkbeat.

Holly Hollman, general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said today's decision "rejects an important aspect of America's history of protecting religious liberty".

There is a fierce debate in the United States over school vouchers, which many religious conservatives advocate and people against government funding for religious purposes oppose.

The majority struck a proper balance between the interests of religion and the government.

The justices on Tuesday also threw out a lower court ruling in a similar case in New Mexico over a state program that lends textbooks to schools, both public and private including religious ones, asking that court also to reconsider following Monday's church ruling. But in a separate opinion, Gorsuch argued that it was really a major ruling for religious liberty.