Supreme Court justices side with church in playground dispute

President Donald Trump watches as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy administers the judicial oath to Judge Neil Gorsuch during a re-enactment in the Rose Garden of the White House

Layton, arguing for the state, clearly had the harder task, struggling as justices pressed him about where to draw the line between those things that a church is clearly entitled to, like public safety protections, versus state aid for facilities and programs at church schools.

The church operates a daycare and preschool in the college town of Columbia, Missouri. The church sued in response, insisting that it should have been eligible to receive the grant because the playground upgrade did not serve any religious purposes.

The constitutions in at least 37 states forbid sending any tax money to churches, church schools or religious organizations.

"They're just saying", she said of the state, "we don't want to be involved with a church".

It's no wonder-the justices had a lot of time to think about this case, since they granted review in January 2016 and appeared to hold off in hearing the case until a ninth justice was confirmed. "Essentially this is a program open to everyone", yet the preschool was rejected for the playground funds just because it was run by a church. "We are just asking not to be treated worse than everyone else".

Americans United today asked the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer - a church-state separation case scheduled to be heard by the high court tomorrow.

What does this have to do with Colorado?

Layton admitted that wouldn't be denied, and Breyer then followed up, asking, "If it does not permit a law that pays money out of the treasury for the health of the children in the church, school, or even going to church, how does it permit Missouri to deny money to the same place for helping children not fall in the playground, cut their knees, get tetanus, break a leg, et cetera?" A court decision is expected by the end of June.

"Both the Colorado and Missouri Blaine Amendments share discriminatory, anti-Catholic origins that make their contemporary use to compel religious discrimination particularly unacceptable", lawyer Paul Clement wrote on behalf of the Colorado county. On the federal appeals court in Denver, he was receptive to claims from religious groups, and he was thought to be a likely vote for the church in Wednesday's case.

NY has, over the decades, chipped away at its Blaine Amendment; a 1967 ruling by the state's highest court rightly upheld a program requiring school boards to loan textbooks to all students, public, private and religious - because the program was "meant to bestow a public benefit upon all school children, regardless of their school affiliations".

"How can the church be disentitled to qualify for a statewide program exclusively because it's a religious institution?" asked Justice Elena Kagan.

The justices focused particularly on the fact that the program promotes health and safety, a broadly acceptable reason for states to fund religious institutions, they suggested, which doesn't advance a religious objective. Under the state of Missouri's policy, would that be allowed for church schools?' And Mr. Layton said 'No, that would not be allowed, ' " Stanley said. Cortman and the alliance are providing the legal support for Trinity Lutheran. It raises issues of separation of church and state and whether individual states can make the barriers higher than the U.S. Constitution imposes.

James R. Layton, a lawyer for the state, said on the other hand that the clause in Missouri's constitution that prohibits the granting of taxpayer monies to any church, sect, or religion, simply means the state should not be "forced" to release money for Trinity Lutheran Church.

Yes, replied Cortman, because the school has "a free exercise right to religious autonomy, to decide who their members are". "The case is important because it's going to ask the question, 'Can the government deny people of faith, and their religious organizations, their freedom to participate equally in society?'" she told MRC Culture in an exclusive interview.

Layton, former solicitor general of Missouri, said the state would not block police and fire protection to churches because public safety is different since it is a service. According to the church, Missouri targeted religion for disadvantageous treatment, which can be justified only if the grant program is narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest.

"This church-state divide, it's a fraught issue".

The tenor of the justices' questions during the hourlong oral argument hinted at disagreements, but with a tilt toward the church's position in a case that could have widespread implications in dozens of other states.

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