DeVos: Supreme Court Sends Clear Message that Religious Discrimination Cannot Be Tolerated

The Supreme Court has ruled that churches have the same right as other charitable groups to seek state money for new playground surfaces and other non-religious needs

"But the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, exclusively because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and can not stand", Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.

Trinity Lutheran sued Missouri in federal court in 2012.

"That came through in spades today not just in the Arkansas case, but in his separate concurrence in a case striking down a Missouri program that refused to provide otherwise available funds for preschool playgrounds to schools affiliated with religious institutions", Vladeck said.

This is the kind of thinking that, if indulged much longer by many more people, will lead to, say, the curtailing of tax exemptions for churches as non-profit entities - wrapped up in a faux concern for the integrity of the church. The church fought the decision in the lower courts, unsuccessfully, and in January 2016 was granted high-court review.

In response to a question from Justice Stephen Breyer, Layton said the state could not deprive the church of police, fire and public health protection without violating the U.S. Constitution. Chief Justice Roberts affirmed Trinity's claim in the official opinion of the court, citing similar SCOTUS decisions from the past.

"The state in this case expressly requires Trinity Lutheran to renounce its religious character in".

Dissenting from the decision were Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Some religious groups cheered the decision, which was closely watched for the effect it may have on school voucher programs. "We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination".

The discrimination against religious exercise in this case was Missouri's refusal to allow Trinity Lutheran "solely because it is a church" to compete with secular organizations for a grant, Roberts wrote.

At arguments, a majority of the justices seemed skeptical of the state's position, particularly because the grants were open to all nonprofits and the funds were not directly funding a religious activity.

Some of the Blaine Amendments are written in a way that could still prevent funds from going to religious institutions, said Daniel Hemel, a professor at University of Chicago Law School. His amendment was proposed, but never passed by Congress.

And indeed, as I predicted after argument, seven justices made short work of the case, finding that the state violated the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause in taking its action based on purely religious status. The legislation says scholarships can go to any "qualified education provider" but the Department of Revenue said a school with a religious affiliation doesn't fit that category. "Blaine Amendments are anti-Catholic in their origin, and getting rid of them is more than a century overdue", she added. "The court did the right thing because it recognized the difference between a government supporting a religion and a government treating all people fairly, including religious people".

"The government should treat children's safety at religious schools the same as it does at nonreligious schools".

Leo also noted something else about the court's newest member.

Hannah Smith, senior counsel at Becket, a nonprofit religious liberty law firm, called the court's decision "good for kids and good for religious liberty". "In the overwhelming majority of cases, the mother's husband is a marital child's biological father", state lawyers wrote, defending the law. Missouri's attorney general recused himself in the case.

James Layton, representing Missouri's director of natural resources, faced considerably tougher questions from the justices. In a rare move for any justice, for only the second time in her eight years on the court Justice Sotomayor read aloud her dissent from the bench.

"Its decision slights both our precedents and out history, and its reasoning weakens this country's longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both", she said.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said the DNR's policy is unconstitutional.

It's easy to be horrified with the Court's decision today in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer.

Why K-12 should operate under different rules likely has less to do with concerns about the separation of church and state and more to do with well-funded teachers union lobbyists protecting their classroom dominance.