U.S. Supreme Court

State's denial of funds for church playground will be considered by SCOTUS

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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide the constitutionality of Missouri’s refusal to allow a church to participate in a grant program for safer playground surfaces.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari on Friday, report the Washington Post, USA Today and SCOTUSblog.

Trinity Lutheran Church argues in its cert petition (PDF) that its exclusion from the program violates the free exercise and equal protection clauses. The church is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom.

Missouri turned down the church’s funding application because of a provision in its state constitution that says, “No money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.”

The church had sought to resurface its preschool playground with scrap tire material with money from the grant program. The playground is used by the students as well as the surrounding community, according to the cert petition.

The church argues that it wanted to provide a “wholly secular benefit” with the money. As a result, the church says, its case can be distinguished from a 2004 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed states to deny their college scholarship money to theology students.

Erik Stanley, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, commented on the case in a statement. “This case has huge implications for state constitutional provisions across the nation that treat religious Americans and organizations as inferiors solely because of their religious identity,” he said.

“Missouri and every state should understand that the U.S. Constitution prohibits religious hostility,” he said.

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