Conservative Religious Groups Praise SCOTUS Ruling in Church Playground Case

(Paul Chesser, Liberty Headlines) Following Monday’s published ruling by the Supreme Court that the State of Missouri couldn’t exclude a Christian church from accessing funds available publicly for reimbursement to nonprofits for resurfacing their playgrounds, several social conservative groups commended the decision.

Justice John Roberts photo

Chief Justice John Roberts Photo by Medill DC (CC)

The majority of Justices, by a 7-2 margin, agreed with Trinity Lutheran Church and the legal group representing it, Alliance Defending Freedom, that the state discriminated against it on religious grounds.

“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,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority opinion.

Only two of the court’s four liberal Justices dissented: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

ADF hailed the outcome.

“The government should treat children’s safety at religious schools the same as it does at nonreligious schools,” said ADF senior counsel David Cortman in a statement. “The Supreme Court’s decision today affirms that commonsense principle and the larger truth that government isn’t being neutral when it treats religious organizations worse than everyone else. Equal treatment of a religious organization in a program that provides only secular benefits, like a partial reimbursement grant for playground surfacing, isn’t a government endorsement of religion.”

Other groups and supporters of Constitutional originalism praised the Court majority also:

  • “This case was about fair play: do religious organizations have access to the public square, or will they be penalized for holding religious convictions? I oppose any establishment or funding of religion, but a house of worship taking advantage of a universally accessible program does not constitute an establishment. Throughout our nation’s history, churches have been at the forefront of American life serving their communities. I’m glad this ruling insists that no American—whether religious or not—should be disadvantaged simply because of what they believe. The Supreme Court got this right, and the only unfortunate thing about this case is that a principle so foundational to basic American freedoms would even be in question.” — Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
  • “The Supreme Court’s decision today in favor of religious liberty is a huge victory. If the government were permitted to discriminate against Trinity Lutheran Church in this case, then such discrimination could extend to other wide ranging forms of religious discrimination, which might include disqualifying religious hospitals from Medicare or Medicaid funds to treat patients.”I am particularly pleased with the precise and originalist approach of Justice Gorsuch, whose concurring opinion states that the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause does not allow for distinctions between religious status and religious use. This first writing as a Supreme Court Justice by Gorsuch is an encouraging sign that he will be a strong advocate of originalism.” — Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel
  • “The state of Missouri was hardly fair to this congregation, whose children at the daycare and preschool need just as much outdoor padding as others. The Court clearly understood this and ruled that it is unconstitutional to treat religious organizations differently in the public square just because they are religious. At the heart of the First Amendment is the idea that Americans should be able to not just hold beliefs but follow those beliefs as they live their lives. The Free Exercise of religion, explicitly protected by the First Amendment, protects varied and robust religious expression in the public square. Certainly the Framers never meant to exclude churches from public life in the way the state of Missouri and lower courts have here.” — Travis Weber, Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council
  • “The SCOTUS ruling in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church is a victory for all people of faith and for religious freedom! It upholds a longstanding Constitutional principle that government programs should be applied equally, in spite of the religious status of some recipients. Religious institutions should be treated equally in the public square, and it is not an ‘establishment of religion’ to allow them to receive the same benefits as everyone else. Throughout our nation’s history, churches have been at the forefront of serving their communities. Many of our nation’s greatest hospitals, universities and charitable organizations were established by the church, and today’s ruling confirms that —whether religious or not—no one should be disadvantaged simply because of what they believe.” — Tami Fitzgerald, Director of North Carolina Values Coalition
  • “Today is a victory for religious freedom. The Supreme Court ruled that Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia has the same rights as charitable groups to seek money for new playground surfaces and other needs. This decision means that the government cannot discriminate against religious organizations and exclude them from receiving a generally available public benefit simply because they are religious. I have closely monitored this case and I also signed an amicus brief with several of my Missouri colleagues to ensure the First and Fourteenth Amendments are not violated.” — US Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (Mo.-03)
  • “The Court’s decision today stops blatant religious discrimination by a state and is a landmark victory for religious freedom and free exercise in our country. Had this case been decided otherwise, it would have opened the door to numerous irrational attacks on religious institutions. Fortunately, that door stays closed and our nation’s first liberty remains safeguarded.” — US Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas