Justice Neil Gorsuch looks to be taking on his first high-profile case in the matter of a church being excluded from a publicly funded aid program.
This week, a majority of the justices appeared to support the church’s claim. Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo. sued after being denied state funding to improve a playground. The church was going to replace the gravel in the playground with recycled synthetic rubber.
The state program gives grants to nonprofits that make improvements to create safer recreational environments for children, but Missouri’s law prohibits direct government aid to educational institutions with a religious affiliation.
Then last week Republican Gov. Eric Greiten changed the state policy to allow religious institutions to participate in the state program. Still, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case by June.
"I'm not sure it's a 'free exercise' [of religion] question," said Justice Sonia Sotomayor. "No one is asking the church to change its beliefs. The state is just saying it doesn't want to be involved in giving [public] money to the church."
Said Justice Elena Kagan: "You're denying one set of actors from competing [for the grant money] because of religion.”
The case was originally set for review in January 2016 but was put on hold after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. Gorsuch could be the deciding vote.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: April 20, 2017