Is church is entitled to state aid to buy playground covering
U.S. Supreme Court cases about government aid to religious institutions have revolved around tax breaks, school textbooks, transportation, private school vouchers and even computer software. But recycled tires.A church-state case that has long been touted as one of the marquee appeals of an otherwise low-key term will go before the justices on April 19.
The case involves a Lutheran church in Missouri that operates a preschool and day care. It sought to improve its playground by applying for the state’s scrap-tire grant program, which provides money to install safe, rubberized ground coverings.Missouri officials turned down the church’s application, which otherwise ranked high on a set of neutral criteria, based on a state constitutional provision that bars direct or indirect government financial aid to churches.
“If you could write your own facts, you couldn’t write them any better,” says David A. Cortman, senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Scottsdale, Arizona-based group that represents the church in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley.
The Columbia church challenged the grant denial as a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion and the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. As the church states in its merits brief: “A rubber playground surface accomplishes the state’s purposes whether it cushions the fall of the pious or the profane.”