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In Church-State Playground Brawl, Justices Lean Toward The Church
20 April 2017, 09:14 | Amanda Barker
A Case for Preventing Children's Scraped Knees
The Supreme Court had agreed to hear the case of Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley -Pauley being the director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources at the time - in January 2016. It also could buttress the case for using taxpayer money for vouchers to help pay for children to attend religious schools rather than public schools in "school choice" programs advocated by conservatives.
The preschool was denied the grant for its playground based exclusively on the playground belonging to a religious organization, according to ADF.
The department denied the money because the state constitution prohibits public dollars from being used to aid religious organizations. The church sued and lost in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, and then appealed to the nation's highest court.
Justice Breyer asked about crossing guards, since they aren't placed everywhere, and Layton simply said this case is different because it involves physical improvement to the church's property. Missouri's new Republican governor, Eric Greitens, last week reversed the state policy and said churches will be eligible for such grants in the future. Greitens said that "government bureaucrats were under orders to deny grants to people of faith who wanted to do things like make community playgrounds for kids... We often just have fundraisers to provide for that", she says.
What does this have to do with Colorado?
Two Arkansas inmates set to die this week in a double execution filed more legal challenges Wednesday, but so far they are hitting roadblocks as a judge weighs a new attempt to prevent the state from using one of its lethal injection drugs in what would be the state's first executions in almost a dozen years.
The Court is expected to issue a ruling by the end of June.
By effectively waiting until the court had its full roster, the justices avoided the possibility of a 4-4 tie, which would have upheld the lower appellate ruling that sided with Missouri. While a judge for a US appeals court in Colorado, Gorsuch argued that religious freedom protected the store chain Hobby Lobby from the Affordable Care Act's requirement that it would have to offer its employees free birth control coverage.
On the eve of the Supreme Court hearing, oral arguments on both sides have responded to the Court's request, saying the case must still be resolved permanently.
The justices acknowledged the playground resurfacing issue was more than meets the eye. The Supreme Court has upheld similar funding prohibitions in the past, but here the church insists that its school was denied funding exclusively on account of its religious status - and that the funds it sought for tire scraps should've been granted because they wouldn't be used for religious instruction.
If the Supreme Court were to rule against the church, its supporters say, that could give states justification to deny funds for other services, ranging from police and fire protection to soup kitchens and battered women's shelters.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had the toughest questions for the church.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed an amicus brief supporting the preschool, joined by the Missouri Catholic Conference, the National Catholic Educational Association, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America and the Salvation Army.
The U.S. constitution states that there must be a separation between the church and the state. "And you're depriving one set of actors from being able to compete in the same way everybody else can compete due to their religious identification".
But when a Columbia, Missouri, church applied for such a grant, it kicked off a major church-state fight. The Founding Fathers included that provision because they understood the problems that arise when government and religion become entangled, according to the ACLU's Daniel Mach.
Layton explained that since those benefits are offered to everyone, there wouldn't be a concern about the state getting entangled in the business of a church or being seen as endorsing a church (both aspects of the Supreme Court's convoluted Establishment Clause jurisprudence). These "no-aid" clauses safeguard religious freedom by ensuring that citizens have freedom of conscience to choose which religions (if any) they will voluntarily support.
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