The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled today that Columbia’s Trinity Lutheran church has the same right as other charitable organizations to seek state money for non-religious purposes. However, Attorney David Cortman with conservative Christian non-profit Alliance Defending Freedom says the ruling continues to leave open the question of what needs can qualify for the grant.
“What this case does, it takes off that first prohibition of right at the door can you be denied simply based on your religious status,” says Cortman. “The next question is what can the money be used for? I think that’s another case for another day.”
In 2012, Trinity Lutheran Church applied for a grant with the state’s recycled Scrap Tire Program, which buys recycled tires to resurface playgrounds. Trinity said the playground was for kids at the church’s daycare, but was denied reimbursement.
Missouri is one of 38 states with an amendment that states “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion.” The Blaine Amendment was what the state argued when rejecting Trinity’s application.
Dr. Michael McShane from the St. Louis based think tank Show Me Institute tells Missourinet that he anticipates further court arguments based on the appropriate use of such grant money.
“School vouchers exist in states all across the country and other states are trying to implement them,” says McShane. “So I think there’s a chance that probably from one of those states a case will come back to the court and they will have to decide on this question.”
The Show Me Institute was founded in 2005 by megadonor Rex Sinquefield.
Mike Farris of Alliance Defending Freedom says the Trinity Lutheran case is one of the most important freedom of religion court battles in the last 20 years.
“We’ve seen the pendulum swing, I believe, far too much to the extreme on these kinds of issues. This is coming back to a more moderate position where we see religious people being treated just like everybody else,” says Farris.
The parties in the Trinity Lutheran case could try to reach a conclusion on the reimbursement issue based on today’s opinion.
The justices ruled 7-2 on Monday in favor of the church.