A massive breach in the wall of separation between church and state

The other ruling today is a loss for the separation of church and state.

In the church-state case, the court ruled 7-2 that it violates the Constitution’s protection of the free exercise of religion to exclude churches from state programs with a secular intent — in this case, making playgrounds safer.

Missouri’s state constitution, like those in about three dozen states, forbade government [to spend] any public money on “any church, sect, or denomination of religion.”

Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., wanted to participate in a state program that reimburses the cost of rubberizing the surface of playgrounds. But the state said that was not allowed.

The exclusion has raised big questions about how to uphold the Constitution’s prohibition on government support for religion without discriminating against those who are religious.

“The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution … and cannot stand,” wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Oh come on. That’s the whole point of the Establishment Clause: that religious bodies are a special case that government needs to stay away from. Churches don’t want the Feds telling them what to do, but they do want to pocket the federal funding when they can. It shouldn’t work that way.

The two dissenting votes came from Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

Sotomayor issued a stinging dissent, and made clear her displeasure by summarizing it from the bench after Roberts announced the decision.

She said the ruling “weakens this country’s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both.”

She concluded: “If this separation means anything, it means that the government cannot, or at the very least need not, tax its citizens and turn that money over to houses of worship. 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.”

Nick Little at CFI had this to say:

“The Supreme Court has detonated a massive breach in the wall of separation between church and state,” said Nicholas Little, Legal Director of the Center for Inquiry. “In fact the justices have laid the groundwork for additional confusion and conflict, as they have they provided no real method for deciding whether future applications by churches for taxpayer subsidy will be acceptable or not.”

In a split decision, the Supreme Court ruled that excluding the playground of Trinity Lutheran Church from a public grant program offered by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to fund the purchase of recycled tires to resurface playgrounds violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The Court held that Trinity Lutheran was excluded from the program because it was a church, which constituted religious discrimination.

“This case was never really about a playground or recycled tires,” said Little. “This was about whether religious institutions can be eligible for public funds for what they claim are secular purposes. The Court has long held that the direct cash funding of religious organizations violates the Constitution. In paying for the renovation of its playground, the state of Missouri relieves Trinity Lutheran Church of a financial burden, which frees the church to use those funds for explicitly sectarian purposes. That is unacceptable.

“It is all the more confounding that the plaintiffs were not even willing to say that the playground had no religious purpose, as the preschool for which it is used is considered part of the church’s religious mission,” said Little. “We are deeply concerned about what happens next, as other sectarian organizations find new and novel ways to siphon taxpayer dollars into their churches, temples, and mosques.”

The money they save on secular sundries that the Feds pay for can go into buying books that say evolution is a lie and children should be whipped for impudence.

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