High Court Hears Religious Discrimination Case

The United States Supreme Court heard arguments on April. 19, 2017, in a case that appears to be innocuous, but holds the potential to harm society by eroding the boundaries of Church and State.

In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer (15-577), a private Church School in Missouri applied for a State grant to fund a playground.  The state denied the school’s application because Missouri had a law at the time, which banned the use of public funds for private religious institutions.

The Church School is claiming religious discrimination.  The case brings to light disagreements over two clauses of the First Amendment–no establishment of religion by the State, and the guaranteed right to exercise religion.

The Supreme Court is weighing the question: Is it a violation of the free exercise of religion for the state to refuse to award playground resurfacing grant funds to a religious school?

The Church School argues that the playground grant money equated to “aid” for “safety purposes.”  Denying the funds for a safer playground, the attorneys presented, is the same as denying a church the public services of police and fire protection.

A lawyer for the State made the opposite distinction, that police and fire are public services for public safety.  The playground material is a public service, but not for the public’s safety.

According to Washington Post reporting, the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom is funding the case for the Church School.  David A. Cormin, Esq. is the Church School’s attorney.

During oral arguments, Cormin said, “All we are talking about is…a safer surface on the playground for when kids play,” arguing that the funding would not be enabling a religious activity.

The decision will ultimately depend on how the Justices choose to frame the issues at hand.  There is a four-pronged fork in the road of possibilities.

The U.S. Supreme Court will either clarify the settled law, murky the waters, avoid the question altogether or open the floodgates to a host of implications for American society.

The Justices could decide in favor of the Church on narrow grounds, which would complicate matters in other cases, likely bringing about a mass of similar lawsuits and confusion over the law.

The high Court might avoid the question altogether by allowing each State the right to determine for itself whether to have a law or not.  Since 39 states already have their own law on the books, it could prove to be a possible path.

Adding another prong to the issue, Missouri’s Governor recently changed the law in that state to allow the disputed funding activity.  The Justices heard arguments in the case, despite knowing this fact, presumably to settle the underlying foundations of the law.

On these grounds, the Court could dismiss the claims, rendering them moot.

The majority of the Court could also rule against the Church School on all claims.  They could clarify the laws and help protect a foundational principle of our nation.

Or, our United States Supreme Court could also rule widely in favor of the Church School, without limitations or guidance, and fling the doors wide open toward the elimination of Church and State boundaries in our government and in society.

This potential result would certainly be a big surprise. The Supreme Court will release its Opinion by late June.