Missouri Attorney General: Church lawsuit should proceedBy Darlene Powers Apr 20, 2017
Corbin believes there's plenty of room between the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses to allow Missouri to deny a state grant to a church. On Wednesday, the nine justices will assemble for what will be Neil Gorsuch's first SCOTUS case - and the outcome could be highly controversial. On Wednesday, he suggested it might be easier for the court to draw a bright line in favor of religion.
What's unusual about today's hearing is that it may not be exactly about the facts of the Trinity case. A federal circuit court ruled against the church, while a divided appeals court failed to overturn the lower bench. "We're disappointed that the governor has reversed course and chosen to blatantly ignore the Missouri Constitution's long-standing commitment to religious freedom". Nearly 40 other states have similar provisions that could be affected if the Court rules in favor of the church. It involves a church using a Missouri state grant to replace its pea gravel playground surface with a bouncy, recycled scrap tire surface at its pre-school and day care center.
ADF said it is defending the long-held First Amendment principle that the government can not exclude religious organizations from government programs that provide purely nonreligious benefits.
Faith & Freedom Coalition Chairman Ralph Reed speaks during a rally in front of the Supreme Court on April 19. While the religious and non-religious both pay into the program, apparently only the non-religious can receive any benefit.
Trinity Lutheran's legal effort is being spearheaded by the Alliance Defending Freedom conservative Christian legal activist group, which argues Missouri's policy violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantees of free exercise of religion and equal protection under the law.
Attorney General Josh Hawley personally recused himself from the case after assuming office in January, having previously performed work supporting the church as a private attorney.
"When you have the government providing direct cash to houses of worship, you threaten church autonomy and independence", he says.
The court's conservative majority may be sympathetic to the church's views. Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas were in dissent.
Becket attorney Hannah Smith says the state rejected the application because Trinity is a religious institution. And Missouri's denial of this benefit is, McConnell writes, "the clearest possible example of an unconstitutional penalty on the exercise of a constitutional right", the free exercise of religion.
In his brief rebuttal, Cortman pointed out that there is no endorsement problem here because the state set out neutral, secular criteria for its grant program-criteria that Trinity Lutheran met.
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Greitens' decision is a unsafe threat to religious freedom.
Gorsuch signaled support for the church by asking Layton why it is acceptable for Missouri to discriminate against religious entities in some instances, such as with the playground program, but not in other circumstances, including the provision of safety and health services.
The Supreme Court directed lawyers for both sides to submit letters on how the policy change affected the case, but both said the case should go forward.
The case is being closely watched by proponents of school vouchers, who hope a broad ruling would remove obstacles to voucher programs in some states. He said the court's decision might clarify the government's relationship with church-run hospitals, homeless shelters and charities, either opening them up to easier access to federal funds or cutting off money they now receive.
California and almost all the states in the West have similarly strict provisions in their constitutions.
There is a procedural wrinkle - that developed on the eve of arguments - that could give the justices an off-ramp to deciding the case.
Greitens said: "Before we came into office, government bureaucrats were under orders to deny grants to people of faith who wanted to do things like make community playgrounds for kids".
"That's just wrong", he said.
"Governor Greiten's eleventh-hour policy change does not moot this case and this court should proceed to a decision on the merits", Cortman said.
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