Top court to hear key religious rights case involving Missouri church

Top court to hear key religious rights case involving Missouri church

We know that he sided with the religious institutions in two other high profile cases: Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell. 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.

The case on its own merits is one or the most significant tests in years of how high Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation" between church and state will remain.

Last week, nonetheless, Greitens announced that the state's Department of Natural Resources will henceforth allow religious organizations to receive the scrap-tire grants. As part of the playground grant program, he said, nonprofits get points for telling people in the community that the state paid for this improvement.

"So is there anything left for the Supreme Court of the United States to decide?"

In a statement dated Monday, Sauer responded, "It is the opinion of the attorney general's office that the recent change in policy does not render this case moot".

Citing discrimination, the church sued the state, and although it lost in the lower courts, it is now looking for a SCOTUS ruling that would ensure that schools run by churches can not be excluded from government programs providing assistance to non-profit organizations. The church, he added later, admits it "uses the preschool to bring the Gospel to non-members".

David Cortman, a lawyer for the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the church in the case, argued "that it is not rational to categorically exclude churches from neutral and otherwise generally available public benefit programs when their objectives and practical impact are entirely secular". Both sides told the Supreme Court that his decision doesn't moot the case, since the issue could arise again in the future.

It said the government does not exclude religious institutions from basic public services like police and fire protection. Trinity Lutheran sought the funds despite regulations barring state grants to religious institutions. Hawley had been a private attorney for Trinity Lutheran Church before taking office in January, and hasn't had anything to do with the case since. Approving the request would have violated the state constitution's Establishment Clause, which explicitly prohibits government funding of churches directly or indirectly, and which also specifically prohibits funding to help or sustain a religious school. And Greitens' new policy is subject to challenge in the state courts from taxpayers.

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Here's the rub. Last week, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens issued a directive that allowed "religious organizations to apply for state Department of Natural Resources grants", and in turn the DNR is to consider such applications without prejudice.

To minimize injuries on its playground, the church applied to the state's "Scrap Tire Surface Material Grant" program, funded by a 50-cent tax on the purchase of new tires.

Since California's constitution was passed in 1879, a strict separation between church and state has been enshrined in state law.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, the newest addition to the Supreme Court, did not ask many questions save for an exchange with Layton over government discrimination against religious groups in "selective" and "general" public programs.

Interestingly, most of the kids who attend Trinity Lutheran's daycare aren't members of the church.

The brief went on to argue that the barring of Trinity Lutheran was wrong since "religious entities in the program would equally further the state's goals of keeping tires out of Missouri's' landfills and fostering children's safety". Roughly three dozen states have similarly worded provisions. "It is time to end discrimination against churches and Christian viewpoints", said Staver.

"I think the theme that came out was what we emphasized in our briefs, and that is if the government is going to open up some sort of a neutral benefit program, then it can't discriminate against religious organizations simply due to their religious status", he insisted.

But the justices didn't appear wholly convinced during the lively hour-long argument that Missouri had violated the free exercise and equal protection clauses of the Constitution, as the church claimed.

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