Written by Don Byrd
Next Wednesday, April 19, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in an extremely important religious liberty case, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer. The issue in the case is whether the federal constitution requires the state of Missouri to include houses of worship in a playground refurbishment grant program despite longstanding state law prohibiting taxpayer funding of religion.
Playground refurbishment may sound like an innocuous issue at first glance. To be sure, however, the substantial legal principles at stake here are not child’s play. This case touches on a fundamental principle guaranteeing religious liberty for all: that government should not fund houses of worship.
The Baptist Joint Committee defended that principle in a brief to the court, arguing that Missouri law should be allowed to exclude churches from its grant program to protect that separation between institutions of government and institutions of religion. In fact, the BJC’s brief argues, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has long been interpreted to forbid direct funding of houses of worship like the grant program at issue in this case.
The BJC has prepared significant resources to help you prepare for and understand next week’s oral argument. For starters, below watch General Counsel Holly Hollman preview the case and discuss the BJC’s brief filed with the court.
For more in-depth coverage, I highly recommend the podcast featuring Hollman and the BJC’s Jennifer Hawks discussing the case.
The BJC’s case resource page – bjconline.org/TrinityLutheran – carries a host of helpful links – to columns, previous blog posts, the podcast, and to the BJC brief itself.
I find this case especially important because it drives home an essential point about religious liberty for a person of faith: despite the initial allure of state resources, government support of churches actually does religion no favors. That is an important, if nuanced, perspective that people of faith who care about religious liberty for all must continue to share, broadcast, and explain. When government promotes religion, our freedom of conscience is undermined, and our belief in the neutrality of government is jeopardized. States should be allowed to say no.