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Can Government Withhold Benefits From Churches? Supreme Court will Decide

Lisa Bourne : Apr 21, 2017 : LifeSiteNews

The legal nonprofit contends in the case that based upon the First Amendment the government cannot exclude religious organizations from government programs that provide purely non-religious benefits.

(Washington, DC) — [LifeSiteNews] Oral arguments were heard before the Supreme Court today in a case concerning state funding for a Missouri preschool's playground equipment that has religious liberty implications for people of faith nationwide. (Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/ via LifeSiteNews)

Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley is also the first religious freedom case that recently sworn-in Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch will hear from the bench. It has been called "the term's remaining marquee case." 

The fundamental issue at hand is whether a state can exclude religious individuals or organizations from secular public benefit programs, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). It also concerns a historically anti-Catholic constitutional provision used to deny a state grant.

ADF attorneys represent the Columbia, Missouri, church that operates Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center. The state had excluded the church from a program that provides a partial reimbursement grant for rubberized surface material from recycled tires for children's playgrounds.

The surface material increases safety for children and was intended for use on the church's preschool playground, which the entire community uses.

More than 90 percent of the children who go to the preschool do not attend the church. Additionally, the preschool has an "open gate" policy with the playground. Children in the neighborhood frequently use it after hours and on weekends.

The preschool was denied the grant for its playground based solely on the playground belonging to a religious organization, according to ADF. The grant denial came even though the State of Missouri ranked the center one of the top qualifiers for the program (fifth out of 44 nonprofit applicants).

The legal nonprofit contends in the case that based upon the First Amendment the government cannot exclude religious organizations from government programs that provide purely non-religious benefits.

"The government should treat children's safety at religious schools the same as they do at non-religious schools," said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. "The government isn't being neutral when it treats religious organizations worse than everyone else. Equal treatment of a religious organization in a program that provides only secular benefits isn't a government endorsement of religion, but unequal treatment that singles out a preschool for exclusion simply because a church runs the school is clearly unconstitutional."

ADF said as well that based on the state's logic, the government could deny churches access to any non-religious public benefit, including fire services or water treatment…

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