state aid to religion

In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer the Supreme Court held 7-2 that Missouri violated Trinity Lutheran Church’s free exercise of religion rights when it refused, on the basis of religion, to award the Church a grant to resurface its playground with recycled tires.

Trinity’s preschool ranked fifth among 44 applicants to receive a grant from Missouri’s Scrap Tire Program. Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) informed the preschool it didn’t receive a grant because Missouri’s constitution prohibits public funds from being used “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.” Trinity sued the DNR claiming it violated the Church’s First Amendment free exercise of religion rights.

There are two ways of looking at this case, both of which are hard to argue with: state aid to religious organizations means less money for secular causes, and all preschool students should have access to safe playgrounds no matter where they go to school.

In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley the Supreme Court will decide whether Missouri can refuse to allow a religious preschool to receive a state grant to resurface its playground based on Missouri’s “super-Establishment Clause.”    

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offers grants to “qualifying organizations” to purchase recycled tires to resurface playgrounds. The DNR refused to give a grant to Trinity Church’s preschool because Missouri’s constitution prohibits providing state aid directly or indirectly to churches.

The majority of the state constitutions contain “Blaine Amendments” or “super-Establishment Clauses” whose prohibitions against aid to churches and religious schools exceed the requirements of the federal Establishment Clause.