The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 Monday that the government cannot exclude churches and other faith-based organizations from a secular government program simply because of their religious identity. This marked the first major religious liberty case since Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to the Court earlier this year.
The much-anticipated decision came in the case Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, involving a church-run preschool in Missouri. The state denied the church a partial reimbursement grant for rubberized playground surface material made from recycled tires solely because a church runs the preschool, even though the only purpose of the grant program is to improve children’s safety.
“The Supreme Court’s decision today affirms the commonsense principle that government isn’t being neutral when it treats religious organizations worse than everyone else,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman, who argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of Trinity Lutheran Church in April. “Equal treatment of a religious organization in a program that provides only secular benefits, like a partial reimbursement grant for playground surfacing, isn’t a government endorsement of religion. As the Supreme Court rightly found, unequal treatment that singles out a preschool for exclusion from such a program simply because a church runs the school is clearly unconstitutional.”
“[T]he exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution…, and cannot stand,” the Supreme Court wrote in its opinion.
“Today is a momentous day for freedom,” said ADF President, CEO, and General Counsel Michael Farris. “We didn’t ask for special treatment. We asked for equal treatment for people of faith. And the court agreed that the government cannot discriminate against people of faith by treating them unequally.”