U.S. Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in Trinity Lutheran Church case

U.S. Supreme Court to hear oral...

The U.S Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer.

The Columbia church case could become a game-changing case for religious freedom.

The case involves a day care facility run by Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia. The church sought a state grant, given to facilities that use recycled tires as a surface for playgrounds to improve safety.

Missouri awarded the grants to other nonprofits, but said that the day care facility was ineligible because the Missouri Constitution denies funding to churches.

Last Thursday, Gov. Eric Greitens announced that his administration would now be allowing religious organizations to apply for and be eligible for such state grants.

Alliance Defending Freedom, represents the Missouri church that runs Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center.

ADF held a media briefing Tuesday afternoon to discuss some of the main points before its oral arguments to the Supreme Court.

ADF said it is defending the long-held First Amendment principle that the government cannot exclude religious organizations from government programs that provide purely nonreligious benefits. In this case, a partial reimbursement grant for rubberized surface material from recycled tires.

"The government should treat children's safety at religious schools the same as they do at nonreligious schools," David Cortman, ADF senior counsel, said.

Cortman said in his media briefing that every person in Missouri - including people of faith - are required to pay a fee on their tire purchases. These fees fund the grant program. However, religious non-profit organizations are among those excluded from participating in the grant program. 

Out of the 44 nonprofits that applied for the playground surface grant, Trinity Lutheran's application was ranked #5 in meeting the qualifications. 

ABC 17 News spoke with the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Tuesday afternoon, before the oral arguments Wednesday.

The ACLU said the Supreme Court should dismiss the Trinity Lutheran Case.

"The church now has the ability to receive taxpayer dollars," Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, said. "The state of Missouri has not only reversed its policy but decided not to follow the Missouri Constitution."

Mittman went on to say church versus state should continue to be enforced. "After all, it is Constitution that our founding fathers decided on more than 200 years ago."

The case was granted shortly before Associate Justice Antonin Scalia's death, but the justices held off on setting it for argument. Monday marked the first time Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch took the bench at the Supreme Court.

Missouri's Attorney General's office recused itself from the case because it must now defend the new rule. Attorney General Josh Hawley also did private work for the church before he was elected. 


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