CampaignTrinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer

Latest News:
Jul 12, 2017
Trinity Lutheran goes back to normal after Supreme Court victory
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2017/07/trinity-lutheran-goes-back-to-normal-after-supreme-court-victory/
Jul 12, 2017
The Supreme Court, religion and the future of school choice
https://theconversation.com/the-supreme-court-religion-and-the-future-of-school-choice-80588
  

Frequently Asked Questions

A.  The preschool has an “open gate” playground policy. It is used by the preschool students and open to all in the community. The playground is frequently used by children in the neighborhood after-hours and on the weekends.
A.   The state program provides reimbursement to non-profit organizations for rubber safety flooring for their playgrounds, using recycled tire scraps to make a “pour-in-place” rubber surface.
A.   To decrease the amount of used tires in Missouri’s landfills and illegal dump sites and foster children’s safety.
A.   The state ranks application according to secular and neutral criteria. Some of the criteria include whether the application describes the project in adequate detail, whether the project utilizes scrap tires from within the state, the percentage of low income families in the school and the community, and whether the school presents a detailed plan for installation.
A.   The application is extremely detailed and requires a number of things, including an installation plan, a budget for the project, a media plan for advertising the benefits of recycling, and an education plan to teach students the benefits of recycling.
A.   Out of the 44 organizations that applied for the playground surface grant, Trinity Lutheran’s Learning Center application was ranked # 5 in meeting the qualifications. However, Trinity Lutheran’s preschool was denied solely because it is run by a church.
A.   Every person in Missouri – including people of faith – is required to pay a fee on their tire purchases. These fees fund the grant program. However, religious non-profit organizations are among those excluded from participating in the grant program; in other words, religious people are forced to put money into the pool, but the playgrounds at their religious organizations can’t benefit from it.
A.   Public benefits are things like food-stamps, police and fire service, bridge and road repair, etc. The state of Missouri rejecting The Learning Center’s application is like a city government fixing the sidewalks in the city, and the crew being told to leave the cracks in front of a church.
A.   A little over thirty states have provisions similar to the one in Missouri’s Constitution prohibiting direct or indirect aid to religious organizations, but some, like Missouri’s, are applied much more strictly in excluding neutral benefits to religious groups. However, the only issue before the Court in this case is whether the exclusion of a religious preschool from a generally available secular and public benefit is a violation of the Constitution.
A.   A win at the Supreme Court will mean that the government cannot discriminate against religious organizations and exclude them from receiving a generally available public benefit simply because they are religious.
A.   A loss could mean that religious nonprofits could be excluded from government programs meant to serve their communities and even be denied basic safety services like fire and police protection. The government shouldn’t deny children in religious preschools the same safety equipment as other children. If the First Amendment can’t guarantee neutrality, it can’t guarantee anything at all.
A.   Not in this case. The playground rubber surface grant is a reimbursement grant; the receiving organization pays for the rubber surface first, then submits receipts and a record of costs to the state for reimbursement based on what they have already paid.
A.   But the preschool IS being denied access to a generally available secular benefit simply for being a religious school. Every child’s safety matters. The government shouldn’t make children in religious preschools less safe on playgrounds than other children. This is like saying a church can hold worship services, but if the building catches on fire, the government can stop firefighters and emergency workers from responding, simply because it’s a religious organization.
A.   No. The Supreme Court has held that the government cannot condition a person receiving a public benefit on their religious identity (McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U.S. 618 (1978). It also should be noted that every person in Missouri – including people of faith – is required to pay a fee on their tire purchases. These fees fund the grant program. However, religious non-profit organizations are excluded from participating in the grant program; in other words, religious people are forced to put money into the pool, but the playgrounds at their religious organizations can’t benefit from it. Equal treatment of a religious organization isn’t an endorsement. But unequal treatment is unconstitutional and unfair.
A.   But the government’s rejection of the preschool’s playground is connected to a fundamental right – here, the Free Exercise clause in the First Amendment and Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Missouri scrap tire program is a public grant program. The government is prohibited from treating people worse based solely on their religious status – here, treating people of faith like second-class citizens. Denying this church’s preschool from participating in the program is like saying the government can prohibit the police from responding to a burglary at a synagogue or mosque. This flies in the face of the Equal Protection Clause’s “direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike.” (City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985)).
A.   In Locke, the Supreme Court held that the state of Washington did not violate the Constitution when it denied scholarship funds for students pursuing a degree in devotional theology. In Locke, the Supreme Court was concerned by what the scholarship funds were going to be used for – the devotional training of clergy – not the identity of those who were using the money. In this case, The Learning Center at Trinity Lutheran does not seek funding for a religious endeavor – it merely wishes to participate in a generally available reimbursement program to obtain recycled scrap tires that are transformed into a pour-in-place rubber playground surface that protects children’s physical safety. Scrap tire surface has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with children’s safety. A skinned knee hurts just as much on the grounds of religious preschool as it does at a secular one.
A.   Provisions found in state constitutions like Missouri’s that go beyond the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting state funding at religiously-affiliated schools. They are named for James G. Blaine, a former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, who in 1875, proposed such an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment ultimately failed, but a number of states adopted similar provisions in their state constitutions.

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