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Freethought Today · August 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

What other media wrote

Here are some other media outlets' analyses on the Trintiy Lutheran decision.

The Washington Post

The Supreme Court's ruling on a high-profile case involving a church's day care playground surfaces will likely be used in church-state battles in the future, experts believe.

A small footnote in the ruling became a hot topic of debate among observers after the decision was handed down.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the majority opinion, but Justice Neil M. Gorsuch and Justice Clarence Thomas did not join a footnote where four justices state, "This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination."

Because only four justices joined that footnote, it is technically not considered the opinion of the court.

Experts believe that the footnote in the case will be used in future church-state litigation.

Does the decision limit the application of the ruling by focusing on "playground resurfacing" in this footnote?

Or does the decision open the door to religious groups receiving government funds for a wide variety of purposes?

Vox.com

Supporters of the state pointed out that — despite the relatively benign goals of Trinity Lutheran's playground-building — it opened the floodgates for taxpayer subsidizing of any "secular" part of a religious organization's expenses that might be deemed to be for the common good.

Secularist blogger Hemant Mehta at the religion blog network Patheos gave the example of building a gym at the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University that was officially open to the public, but served to make the institution more attractive to potential students.

Plus, any precedent allowing state funds to flow to religious institutions could be used to legitimize discrimination on religious grounds. In LGBTQ-advocacy group Lambda Legal's amicus brief, for example, the organization argued that "There should be no possibility that a child and her same-sex parents are fenced out of Trinity, left to gaze at a publicly funded playground they may not enter, as its use is reserved solely for children from preferred religious tradition as a place to play and pray. The fence belongs instead precisely where Article I, § 7 erects it: separating church from state."

A0s the Supreme Court's attention turns toward more religious-exemption cases it's evident that the uneasy relationship between church and state in America won't become any simpler anytime soon.
The Atlantic
This is the first time the court has said the government is required to provide public funding directly to a religious organization.

That decision could have implications for a host of other policy fights — especially the voucher debate over public funding for private religious schools.

In the dissenting opinion, it reads, in part: "The court profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church. Its decision slights both our precedents and our history."

While her colleagues may see this about nothing more than tire scraps on a church playground, Justics Sonia Sotomayor argued that the decision undermines years of court precedent and legal history in the United States. Missouri wasn't being "anti-religious" in denying money to Trinity Lutheran, Sotomayor argued. It was choosing to remain secular.

"If this separation [of church and state] means anything, it means that the government cannot ... tax its citizens and turn that money over to houses of worship," Sotomayor wrote.

"The court today blinds itself to the outcome this history requires and leads us instead to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment."

As Sotomayor predicts, Trinity Lutheran is likely the beginning of a new wave of legal challenges about government funds and the free-exercise clause. A little case about tire scraps and playgrounds just set the stage for a new way of thinking about the separation of church and state.