The Supreme Court will hear the case of Trinity Lutheran Church and its preschool, Good Shepherd Lutheran, against Comer and the Missouri Department of National Resources next week. A state program that re-surfaces playgrounds using recycled scrap tires denied the preschool a grant.
The case is one of the first for newly appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch, and it covers separation of church and state.
Kerri Kupec serves as the legal counsel and communications director with the Alliance Defending Freedom. She said 44 non-profits applied to the tire scrap program in Missouri, and the program accepted 14. Despite being ranked No. 5 on the list of programs, she said the preschool was denied for the sole reason of its religious affiliation.
“Children safety matters regardless of whether they attend religious school a public institution,” Kupec said. “I think we can all agree that whether you’re Christian or Jewish or Muslim if you fall down on the playground and hurt yourself, it’s going to hurt just the same.”
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to enforce the Missouri Constitution which grants “heightened protection to the separation of church and state.” Executive Director of the ACLU of Missouri, Jeffrey Mittman, said the case is a matter of first amendment rights.
“This case is about the first amendment,” Mittman said. “It’s about settled constitutional law that protects individuals’ rights to practice their religion from government interference and ensures that tax payers are not forced to support any specific religion or religion over non religion.”
Both sides expect Gorsuch and the Supreme Court to side with them on the issue of separation of church and state.
“I would certainly hope that Justice Gorsuch along with all the other justices on the Supreme Court agree that people of faith and their organizations should not be disqualified from receiving generally available secular public benefits,” Kupec said. “The Supreme Court has held throughout the years that one cannot condition the receipt of a public benefit upon whether the person receiving that benefit is religious or not.”
“This is settled Supreme Court law,” Mittman said. “The first amendment is very clear. We will count on the justices to respect the first amendment to assure that Americans right of religious liberty is protected, to ensure that the establishment clause is respected. That is the guiding principle that should be followed.”