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Alliance Alert

Apr 20, 2017

Oral Arguments at the Supreme Court: What You Need to Know

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer.

Here's what you need to know.

First, here's what Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center Director Annette Kiehne said immediately following oral arguments:

"My name is Annette Kiehne, and I am director of the Child Learning Center at Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri. All of us at Trinity Lutheran are deeply grateful to the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court for hearing our case this morning. For six-and-a-half years, I’ve had the privilege of working with the boys and girls who attend our school … with the parents who entrust those children to our care … and with the teachers who share my commitment to providing a safe, joyful, rewarding learning experience for these children and their families. We have a wonderful job.

"Here is something you learn very quickly, working with children: A kid is a kid. Playground time, for a child, is about play. And play should be safe; safety shouldn’t hinge on whether a child is religious or they are playing on a playground at a religious school or at a secular or public institution.

"This is about working together to help keep our kids safe when they play—wherever they play. The safety of all children should matter to all of us. Most of the children who come to our preschool are from families who don’t go to our church. And a lot of children who play on our playground are from the surrounding neighborhood; they come with their families in the evening and on weekends.

"We aren’t asking for special treatment. We are just asking to not be treated worse than everyone else. Whether you are a Jewish, Muslim, or Christian kid, or not religious at all, when you fall down on a playground, it hurts just as much at a religious preschool as it does at a non-religious one. We trust and pray that the Supreme Court will consider that carefully, and rule in favor of the safety of children everywhere. Thank you."

Second, ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman, who argued the case, told Alison Howard that he couldn't say enough about how well the arguments went:

Third, Cortman also had this piece at USA Today explaining the case. Here's an excerpt:

"Allowing the government to discriminate against religious groups when it provides nonreligious benefits raises some very concerning questions. For example, if a little girl is hurt on Trinity’s playground, can the county hospital send an ambulance? Or if the city provides fire extinguishers to all preschools, can it give some to Trinity? How about if the state begins a program to remove asbestos from all public and private school buildings, can the government ensure that Trinity’s students are safe from that dangerous substance?

"Those who support Missouri’s categorical exclusion of religious groups argue that the state has a significant interest in not giving funds to religious organizations. This interest, they argue, is grounded in the need to separate church and state.

"But that argument goes too far. The playground surface grant, much like an in-kind benefit, is a partial reimbursement only after Trinity purchases the rubber surface. And there’s simply no risk that making a religiously operated playground safer does anything to promote religion. When the funding at issue is for a secular use (and installing a safer floor on a playground is undeniably a secular use), the state’s efforts to wall off religious groups serves no purpose other than to discriminate against people of faith."

Finally, you can read the full transcript of the oral arguments here.


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  • Case:Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer
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