Apr 18, 2017
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley to decide whether excluding churches from public grant program violates the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who replaced Justice Antonin Scalia, took the bench for the first time on Monday, and tomorrow he will be on the bench in time to participate in what could be a major case involving the Free Exercise of Religion.
Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, which operates a preschool and daycare with a public playground, applied to a state grant program that helps nonprofits install recycled rubber playground surfaces. The church applied for the Missouri Scrap Tire Program in 2012 to replace the gravel surface of its playground to provide a safer and more accessible playground for children. However, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources rejected its application, citing a clause in Missouri’s state constitution that bars the use of state funds “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion,” despite having ranked it fifth out of 44 submissions in a competition that resulted in 14 grants. The church sued in federal district court, arguing that its exclusion was a violation of free-exercise and equal-protection rights. The district court rejected Trinity Lutheran’s claims, ruling that to do otherwise would raise “antiestablishment concerns.”