A ban on a church playground receiving money from the Government “cannot stand” because it is “odious” to the Constitution, the US Supreme Court has ruled.
The decision – which has been described as ‘setting the stage for a new way of thinking about the separation of church and state’ – could have implications on dozens of other states.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the religious liberty group which supported the Missouri church, described the result as “momentous”.
The case centred on whether Government money could be used for Trinity Lutheran Church children’s play area.
The church applied for a grant to cover costs of resurfacing its playground with used tyres in 2012, but was turned down by the state.
Here there is no question that Trinity Lutheran was denied a grant simply because of what it is—a church.
Over 90 per cent of the children who attend the preschool do not go to Trinity church, and the playground is open to the community at weekends.
In a decision supported by seven of the nine Supreme Court judges, the court found that the state’s decision was unconstitutional.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: “Here there is no question that Trinity Lutheran was denied a grant simply because of what it is—a church.”
He added, “the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand”.
New judge Neil Gorsuch wanted the court to go further and make it generally unconstitutional for state funds to be denied to religious schools.
ADF celebrated the ruling: “The government should treat children’s safety at religious schools the same as it does at nonreligious schools.”
It added that the decision affirms “the larger truth that government isn’t being neutral when it treats religious organizations worse than everyone else”.
Media outlets highlighted the importance of the ruling, with USA Today stating that up to 39 states with “constitutional provisions that block public funds from going to religious organizations” could be affected.