Written by Don Byrd

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled 7-2 in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church in an important church funding case. Missouri denied the church a playground refurbishment grant because of state law prohibiting taxpayer aid to religion, but the Court ruled today that the denial violates the church’s religious freedom rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. 

The Baptist Joint Committee filed an amicus brief urging the Court to uphold the state’s grant denial because of the church-state entanglements that arise from direct government funding of churches, which has historically been prohibited and which has been explicitly barred by several states. The Supreme Court in its opinion today rejected that view, warning that “denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion.”

The BJC’s Holly Hollman issued a statement in response to today’s ruling.

“The U.S. Supreme Court today rejects an important aspect of America’s history of protecting religious liberty. By treating a state ban on aid to churches as a mark of discrimination, the Court’s decision upends precedent and adds confusion to the law. 

While claiming to stand up for churches, the Court ignores their distinct nature as centers of religious exercise. ‘No aid’ provisions reflect the hard-fought battles of Baptists and other religious dissenters that abolished government controls over religion and secured church autonomy. 

The decision does not create a free exercise right to government funding of religion, but it unnecessarily blurs the line that ensures religion flourishes on its own. ”

 For more, see the BJC’s Trinity Lutheran Church resource page.