Late last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case this term involving a church’s request for government funds. Back in June, the 8th Circuit rejected Trinity Lutheran Church’s appeal in a suit challenging a grant denial by Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The denial of funds – which were requested as part of a state program to fund the resurfacing of playgrounds – was based on a provision of the Missouri Constitution that explicitly bars money from the public treasury from aiding any church, directly or indirectly.
The Supreme Court’s decision to take up the case means they will wade into the area of faith-based funding for the first time in several years.
Trinity argues that the rejection of their application amounts to religious discrimination. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, they contend, forbids DNR of withholding from the church state funds that are available to secular organizations.
This has the potential to be a very important government funding case. Many state constitutions include sections like Missouri’s, which draws sharper church-state funding lines than the U.S. Constitution in an attempt to more strongly protect against state support of religion. At stake in this case is the viability and reach of such state provisions. Will the Court allow states to enforce strict church-state laws in the name of religious liberty? Or will they limit the impact of no-aid-to-religion provisions out of concern for religious discrimination?
The case will be decided this term – sometime before the end of June. Stay tuned.