WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley to decide whether excluding churches from public grant program violates the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who replaced Justice Antonin Scalia, took the bench for the first time on Monday, and tomorrow he will be on the bench in time to participate in what could be a major case involving the Free Exercise of Religion.
Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, which operates a preschool and daycare with a public playground, applied to a state grant program that helps nonprofits install recycled rubber playground surfaces. The church applied for the Missouri Scrap Tire Program in 2012 to replace the gravel surface of its playground to provide a safer and more accessible playground for children. However, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources rejected its application, citing a clause in Missouri’s state constitution that bars the use of state funds “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion,” despite having ranked it fifth out of 44 submissions in a competition that resulted in 14 grants. The church sued in federal district court, arguing that its exclusion was a violation of free-exercise and equal-protection rights. The district court rejected Trinity Lutheran’s claims, ruling that to do otherwise would raise “antiestablishment concerns.”
At issue is whether the government can exclude a qualified church from a grant program that uses neutral criteria for approving awards solely because the applicant is a church? There is a split among the federal courts of appeal on this issue, which the High Court is expected to resolve.
Liberty Counsel filed an amicus brief in the U. S. Supreme Court, on its own behalf and for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference-CONEL, to end discrimination against churches.
“If the government were permitted to discriminate against Trinity Lutheran Church in this case, then some would extend this case to allow the government to withhold police and fire protection, water and sewer service, or street and sidewalk maintenance,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “The government could also disqualify religious hospitals from Medicare or Medicaid funds to treat patients. It is time to end discrimination against churches and Christian viewpoints,” said Staver.
Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.