By Staff, Alliance Defending Freedom
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Jan. 15 to take up a case that addresses the question of whether states can exhibit hostility to religion by prohibiting churches and church-run organizations from participating in state programs solely because the groups are religious.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent a church-run pre-school and daycare center which the state of Missouri excluded from a program that provides recycled tire products to surface children’s playgrounds. Last month, ADF filed a brief with the high court that answered the state’s arguments in favor of religious discrimination in the program.
“No state can define religious neutrality as treating religious organizations worse than everyone else,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “That isn’t neutrality; it’s a hostility to religion that violates the First Amendment. That’s the primary issue that the Supreme Court will address. In this case, the state should not have excluded this preschool from the recycled tire program simply because a church operates the school.”
“Children’s safety is just as important on church daycare playgrounds as it is on other daycare playgrounds,” added ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley. “Missouri and every state should understand that the U.S. Constitution prohibits religious hostility, which is what Missouri exhibited when it denied Trinity Lutheran’s scrap tire grant application. This case has huge implications for state constitutional provisions across the nation that treat religious Americans and organizations as inferiors solely because of their religious identity.”
Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit upheld a district court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley that ruled the state was justified in denying the center because a church runs it. Last month, 10 states filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that the high court should grant the ADF petition and reverse that ruling.
Trinity Lutheran Church Learning Center in Columbia sought to participate in the 2012 Playground Scrap Tire Surface Material Grant Program. The center wished to remove and replace a large portion of the pea gravel surfacing on its playgrounds with a safer, recycled, pour-in-place rubberized product.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources disqualified the learning center solely because Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, Inc., operates it. The department pointed to a section of the state constitution that prohibits government aid to religion.