Playground case touches on separation of church and state

With Trump pick aboard, top US court tackles religious rights

"And then your interests have to rise to an extremely high level". The state would no longer deny grants to church schools, he said. If so, he said, why can Missouri "deny money for helping children not fall in the playground, cut their knees, get tetanus (or) break a leg"?

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor did not seem inclined to support any such funding.

The questioning at the hearing was so tough on Missouri's Layton that Travis Weber of the Family Research Council's Center for Religious Liberty said he nearly felt sorry for the attorney. "Churches are, by definition, expressions of religion-organized for religious exercise", she insisted.

Gorsuch laid out a broad conception of religious liberty in a decade as a federal appeals court judge.

The Supreme Court had agreed to hear the case a few weeks before the February 2016 death of Gorsuch's predecessor, Justice Antonin Scalia, but it was left dangling while Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic nominee from taking the vacant seat a year ago.

No money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, as such; and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion or any form of religious faith or worship.

Cortman explained that while states have tremendous leeway in how they set up programs such as this (e.g. only for public schools), Missouri was clearly singling out churches for disfavored treatment-something the "play in the joints" does not allow.

A clear majority of the U.S. Supreme Court seemed inclined Wednesday to rule in favor of a Missouri Lutheran church in one of the most important legal battles in decades over the separation of church and state. On Wednesday, he suggested it might be easier for the court to draw a bright line in favor of religion. But Missouri's law - similar to those in roughly three-dozen other states - prohibits direct government aid to educational institutions that have a religious affiliation.

Those are legitimate objectives for the state in avoiding an unconstitutional entanglement with religion, Layton argued.

"The safety of all children matters, whether they attend a religious school or a nonreligious school", said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman.

"This religious exclusion wrongfully sends a message that some children are less worthy of protection simply because they enjoy recreation on a playground owned by a church", he said.

Justice Clarence Thomas, in keeping with his customary practice, did not speak or ask questions during the argument. Gorsuch also ruled in favor of the right of a Native American inmate in Wyoming to use the prison's sweat lodge for religious purposes, according to CNN, arguing that "while those convicted of crime in our society lawfully forfeit a great many civil liberties. the honest exercise of religion should not be among them".

"It's a religious discrimination issue", she said.

Trinity Lutheran sued in federal court in 2012.

Greitens' decision is a risky threat to religious freedom. The church, he added later, admits it "uses the preschool to bring the Gospel to non-members".

If the Court proceeds with a full hearing on the Trinity case today, a ruling is not expected until sometime this summer.

Synagogues, mosques and religious schools have received funding under that programme, according to a brief filed by a Jewish group supporting the church's position. It placed fifth among 44 applicants, 14 of which were awarded grants, but the church was passed over based on a provision of the state constitution. Wednesday's argument date was finally set February 17, shortly afterGorsuch's nomination.

Last week Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens announced he was reversing the DNR's policy and allowing religious organizations to apply and be eligible for grant funds.

In a statement he said that before he came into office in 2016, "government bureaucrats were under orders to deny grants to people of faith who wanted to do things like make community playgrounds for kids". "That's just wrong", said Greitens.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the advocacy group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which backed the state's ban, asked the justices to drop the case, saying it is now moot following Greitens' policy reversal.

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