SCOTUS decides religious school can use taxpayer money to resurface the playing field


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The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a religious school can receive taxpayer funds for a playground. The ruling came in the case of a church in Columbia, Missouri, which operates a day care center and preschool as part of its church ministry and requested a state grant to resurface the its playing field with rubber.

In the majority view, Justice John Roberts described the exclusion of the Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center from a grant for which it would otherwise be characterized as “odious to our Constitution all the same and cannot be sustained.” .

John McGinnis, professor of constitutional law at Northwestern University, said the church had made its case “by appealing to a very general principle under the Bill of Rights.”

McGinnis, who supports the Supreme Court’s majority opinion, said the court does not allow requiring the church to give up a constitutional right in order to receive government aid.

“Since you have the constitutional right to practice your religion, they cannot condition the funds that are generally available for anyone to waive those rights,” McGinnis said.

He also argued that the ruling maintains neutrality and supports groups that work for the public good.

“In the modern world, the state is powerful enough to give money, and if it only gives money to secular institutions… you are not neutral,” McGinnis said. “In effect, you get the state to help secular institutions at the expense of religious institutions, even when nuns do what civic organizations often do – provide public benefits.”

Critics of the country’s highest court ruling have expressed concern about the implications the ruling might have for the future, and argued Monday’s ruling could create a slippery slope for separation from the Church. and the state.

Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas chose not to sign a footnote stating that the court’s approval of Trinity Lutheran funding only applied to playground funding and not to parish schools in general.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent: “If this separation means anything, it means that the government cannot, or at least does not need to tax its citizens and return this money to the places of worship.

Following the battle over religious freedom laws, others argued that sharing public funds with religious institutions could allow taxpayer money to go to a group that would not welcome certain members of the public, such as LGBT people. But McGinnis said the state can put safeguards in place to prevent discrimination on religious grounds.

“It would be entirely open to the state (to demand) that all playgrounds be open to people of all sexual preferences,” he said. “The court has already ruled that these laws do not discriminate against religion because it is a neutral law. You might have a non-religious belief not to allow people of certain sexual preferences not to enter your land. game. “

He believes, however, that the decision will have ripple effects, especially in the education sector. More than 30 states have Blaine Amendments preventing religious schools from receiving public funding, and McGinnis said school choice advocates could gain support from parish schools seeking additional funding.

“If you think about this in the political movement, I think there will be more pressure for the good guys if some of the funds can be given to religious schools, because it will cause those schools to put pressure on their legislatures (for do it), ”McGinnis said.

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