Court is back in session, and one of the first things on the docket is Religious Liberty and it’s proximity to the Constitution. More specifically, the question of whether state governments can bar religious schools from receiving funds to ensure playground safety.
With the recent addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, many on the Left are concerned that the balance of power will shift, especially in cases relating to Religious Liberty and other Conservative issues.
In the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer/Pauley, a funding grant to “rubberize” the school playground was denied on the basis of separation of church and state; meaning tax-payer money could not be allocated to any schools that were supported and operated by any religious church or entity. Furthermore, this particular grant was made available to all schools, except those with a faith based affiliation, and in turn violated the schools 14th and 1st Amendment rights.
Although the Separation of Church and State is clearly stated in the Constitution, it has not always been perceived as being clear, and thus becomes the landscape for different interpretations, often steeped in political agenda. This has become even more apparent in recent years.
In the case of the Missouri school and their playground, the school clearly met all the criteria when they applied for this particular grant. All except for the fact that they were run by a religious institution, a church. So herein lies the debate; how far does separation of church and state extend? Should the safety of children on a school playground take precedence over that separation? The answer is no. Clearly, children and playground safety do not fall into that category. If you say they do, then that brings the argument that all religious schools should be barred from access to fire and police departments services.
This case will likely go in the favor of the school, and probably would do so whether Justice Gorsuch was on the bench or not. And while this will not reach “landmark decision” status, like the legalization of gay marriage, it does once again show the continued struggle to clearly define the murky waters of separation of church and state, and the ever-present political agendas that often drive a cause, rather than Constitutional clarity.
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