Crucial Religious Freedom Case Arrives at Supreme Court
Among the factors that drove the electoral victory of Donald Trump was his very strong support from evangelical Christians.
Trump won the white evangelical vote 81 percent to 16 percent. This was a higher percentage of the evangelical vote than received by the last three Republican presidential candidates.
And one very strong factor driving this evangelical vote was concern about the Supreme Court.
Shortly before the election, the Pew Research Center reported that 77 percent of conservative Republican and Republican-leaning voters said Supreme Court appointments were an important consideration in their vote.
For conservatives, the appointment of a justice whose conservative credentials are as solid and unwavering as those of the late Antonin Scalia is vital.
Even with Scalia’s presence on the court, Obamacare survived two crucial court decisions that could have dealt it fatal or near-fatal blows. And then, last year, by a 5-4 vote, the court redefined marriage. Conservatives know that a loss of Scalia’s conservative anchor would open the door for our nation’s highest court to turn completely into a group of black-robed Hollywood scriptwriters.
One example of the many challenges facing us is a case dealing with religious liberty, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley, which the court recently agreed to hear.
Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri, operates a preschool, a child learning center, open to all children in the local community age 2 to kindergarten.
The school includes a playground.
In 2012, the school applied for grant in a program run by the State of Missouri that would have enabled them to resurface the playground with a surface safer for the children.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources operates the Playground Scrap Tire Surface Materials Grant Program. They recycle tires and produce a rubberized product as a pour-on surface for playgrounds that is safer and more friendly for kids than gravel and other materials.
Trinity Lutheran applied to the program and was ranked fifth out of 44 applicants.
The government then rejected their application. The Missouri constitution, they said, prohibits directing government funds to religious institutions because of an 1875 amendment — the Blaine Amendment.
The church filed a lawsuit but lost in district court and then lost again on appeal. They then, under representation by the Alliance Defending Freedom, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, and the high court has agreed.
What does making a playground safer for kids at a church school have to do with religion? Why should it be any different than any other school?
The constitution’s first amendment guarantees each citizen’s right to “free exercise” of their religion. The fourteenth amendment guarantees “equal protection” under the law.
Refusal of a state government to use public funds, designated for the safety of children, for children at a school run by a church is anything but “free exercise” of religion and anything but “equal protection” under the law for kids at a church school.
Religion is now widely viewed in our courts as an obstacle to freedom rather than something crucial that a free society must protect.
It is one thing to use the power of government and government funds to promote a certain religion. This is clearly what the U.S. constitution wishes to prevent. But it is quite another thing to discriminate against a citizen of faith and not make government resources available to that citizen, resources that are available to other citizens, because of that individual’s faith.
Can it possibly be that the safety of a child playing at a church-operated school is a different issue than the safety of a child a secular school?
The Trinity Lutheran Church has already lost twice on this question. It’s why our courts need a strong and powerful conservative injection.
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