Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Trinity Lutheran Religious Freedom Case

Oral arguments "could not have gone better" for Trinity Lutheran Church.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 19: Faith & Freedom Coalition Chairman Ralph Reed speaks during a rally in front of the US Supreme Court, on April 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. Today the high court heard oral arguments from Alliance Defending Freedom in the Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer case about a religious preschool that was rejected from a state program that provides reimbursement grants to purchase rubberized surface material for children's playgrounds.

By Liberty McArtor Published on April 19, 2017

People gathered outside the Supreme Court Wednesday under balloons spelling “Fair Play” during arguments in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer.

Arguments “could not have gone better,” according to Alliance Defending Freedom President Michael Farris. ADF is the legal group representing the church. Arguments ended mid-morning. 

Trinity Lutheran is the first religious freedom case heard by Justice Neil Gorsuch, meaning a full nine-justice panel could issue a ruling. That ruling would determine the future relationship between government and people of faith.

Background

In 2012 Trinity Lutheran Church in Missouri applied for a state program that recycles scrap tires. The scraps make rubber surfaces for playgrounds. Since the church runs a pre-school, it needed the rubber surface for its playground. Most children who attend the school don’t attend the church. The school’s playground is also open for community use after hours and on weekends. 

Still, Missouri denied the application. The state cited a law that funds could not help “any church, sect, or denomination of religion.”

ADF sued on behalf of the church. ADF attorney David Cortman said that Missouri violated its “freedom to participate equally in society.”

Is the Case Moot?

In a surprise move last week, Missouri’s new Republican governor Eric Greitens reversed the policy in question. He announced the reversal last Thursday: 

We have hundreds of outstanding religious organizations … doing great work on behalf of kids and families every single day. We should be encouraging that work. So, today we are changing that prejudiced policy.

Some argued that the reversal mooted the case. But both ADF and Missouri claimed otherwise. They submitted letters arguing that a ruling was still needed. 

What’s at Stake

A ruling against the church could set a dangerous precedent for people of faith, ADF’s Kerri Kupec suggested.

“We wouldn’t say to a yeshiva or mosque or a parochial school or a temple that they can’t call the fire department,” Kupec said, according to the Missourian. “This is the same kind of situation we’re looking at here. This is a public safety benefit program.”

Opponents worry that a win for the church could allow government to fund “discriminatory” organizations (i.e., those that oppose same-sex “marriage”).

But supporters argue that it’s discriminatory not to allow churches to benefit from government programs. Especially when it comes to an issue of children’s safety on playgrounds.

Farris seemed optimistic about the outcome. “Even some of the liberal justices seemed unwilling to follow Missouri’s request to discriminate.”

“We aren’t asking for special treatment,” the church’s school director said Wednesday. “We are just asking to not be treated worse than everyone else.”

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  • alive in the river

    I think that it is great that this church allows its community ti use its facilities. I am sure they are a very warm and inviting church in their community.

    However, I do not believe that churches should accept monies or services from the government. Period.

    Let’s take this example and paint a slightly different narrative: a local Muslim mosque wants the government to help pay for an expansion to their current playground. On that playground, they will likely promote Islam and there will be a culture of practicing their beliefs on or in the vicinity of said playground. There, local members will likely promote Islam and try and recruit new members. Being a tax payer and a believer in Jesus, do you think it would be just for my tax dollars to go to their cause? No. But if it does, I can petition that the funds are inappropriately being used to promote Islam by means of taxpayer dollars and I could sue. And if the government doesn’t like certain things about the way they do things, your local or federal representatives and judiciary appointees could say ‘you’d better stop that or we will pull funding.’ So now two things have been introduced: 1) me, a non-member of their mosque, suing because the funds are not being used the way they want them to be used because it stands against my Christian beliefs and 2) the government is now dictating doctrine and how the mosque operates and recruits because and now the mosque has to decide if they would rather bow down to their money-idol or stay steadfast in what they believe. Both are situations where outsiders are telling them what to do and how to do it.

    Now, change the mosque to your Christian church and replace me (the petitioner) with the rest of the world…. is that what you really want for your church?

    No. I don’t think anyone wants the government telling our church what they can and can’t do or practice because of some chewed up rubber.

    • Paul

      if it worked well that way Planned Parenthood would be defunded by now.

      • alive in the river

        I don’t nessecarily agree with that. I believe the church in general has been silent for too long and therefore has given satan room to flourish. If we give the opportunity for satan to come in, he will steal, kill, and destroy whatever he gets a hold of. As a church, we shouldn’t give him a foothold, not even an inch. Outside, secular influence (politically, financially, etc) on a church is just that foothold. That is why if this church wants runner mulch for their playground, take up and offering and buy it themselves.

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