Free Exercise Clause Says Churches Are Allowed Public Funding

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Most people know about the separation of church and state but this seems to cross those boundaries. The Supreme Court ruled today that religious organizations are not to be excluded from grant-funded state programs.

The Court’s Decision

It was ruled in a 7-2 decision with Justice Sonia Sotomayor reading the dissent. It was also signed by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg from the bench. The court has sided with Trinity Lutheran Church which challenged Missouri’s decision to bar it from receiving funds in a state program which reimburses non-profit organizations. The program in question is for resurfacing their playgrounds with recycled rubber tires.

Trinity operates a preschool and daycare on its property and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources said the state’s constitution prohibits the preschool and daycare from using public funds to support the church. The court ruled the state’s policy violated the church’s rights under the 1st Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. It was deemed violated because the church was denied available public benefits on account of its religious status.

The Free Exercise Clause

Chief Justice John Roberts said, “The Free Exercise Clause ‘protects religious observers against unequal treatment’ and subjects to the strictest scrutiny laws that target the religious for ‘special disabilities’ based on their religious status,” while delivering the court’s opinion. He also said,“Apply that basic principle, this Court has repeatedly confirmed that denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that can’t be justified only be a state interest ‘of the highest order.’”

What do you think about this latest ruling?

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