Published: Thu, April 20, 2017
Global Media | By Abel Hampton

Attorney General's office recuses itself from Supreme Court case

Attorney General's office recuses itself from Supreme Court case

This helps the state reduce the number of tires in its landfills and make playgrounds safer for kids.

"Trinity Lutheran wanted to make taxpayers fund churches".

At issue is whether the government can exclude a qualified church from a grant program that uses neutral criteria for approving awards exclusively because the applicant is a church? They are referred to as Blaine Amendments named after James G. Blaine, a US senator from Maine.

Liberal and conservative Supreme Court justices alike sounded sympathetic Wednesday to a Missouri church that says it was unfairly denied a state grant for playground improvements.

At the argument, lawyers for both sides faced a very active bench.

Until the argument, the case had appeared in danger of being derailed by a last-minute policy change. A broad ruling by the Supreme Court could require states to ignore their own constitutions and direct taxpayer money to churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship. He explained that the justices should look at where the money would be going-to a secular activity.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Scottsdale, Ariz. -based group that is representing Trinity Lutheran, said in its letter to the court that "the governor's policy change comes late in the day, on the eve of oral argument, thus casting doubt on its permanence". If the judicial record of Neil Gorsuch is anything to go by, there is a strong possibility the court will take the side of the church and will challenge the state on banning the funding of religious entities. But 37 states put versions of his amendment into their constitutions, and Congress required its inclusion in the constitutions of states entering the union.

This is the space between the Scylla and Charybdis of the religion clauses where Missouri says its policy falls, too.

However, supporters of the church insist that the amendment was drafted during a time of anti-Catholicism and was meant as a measure to prevent Catholic schools from receiving the public benefits that the largely Protestant public-school system received. Under this test, the State must prove more than the existence of a rational basis for denying Trinity's application: it must prove that it acted to further a compelling state interest and that the denial was created to further that interest.

If police and fire protection must be provided to the church, Breyer asked, how can the state "deny money to the same place for helping children not fall in the playground, cut their knees, get tetanus, break a leg, et cetera?" In this case, a partial reimbursement grant for rubberized surface material from recycled tires.

"We don't want to be in a position ... where we are selecting among churches", Layton said. In 1947's Everson v. Board of Education, the high court ruled that it would not be unconstitutional for a state to provide to parochial schools services like busing and emergency services protection that are "indisputably marked off from the religious function" of the school.

There is not infinite money, so not all applications will be successful: the government will invariably be giving money, directly, to some religious institutions and not others. But Trinity Lutheran attempts to distinguish Locke from its complaint. Eighteen states have also filed a brief supporting the church; Idaho is not among them. A Missouri law provides grants for nonprofit organizations to purchase rubber playground surfaces. On April 13th, Missouri's governor announced on Facebook that his state's policy excluding churches from the grant programme is "just wrong".

Suddenly, it seems the conflict at the heart of Trinity Lutheran v Comer may no longer be live.

When not furrowing their collective brows about creches and displays of the Ten Commandments here and there, courts often are pondering tangential contacts between the government and religious schools.

Justice Samuel Alito, one of the court's staunchest defenders of religious freedom, cited a series of examples to illustrate that Missouri's exclusion of religious groups could extend to funding that protects against school violence or acts of terrorism.

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