Monday, Jun 26, 2017

The head of the U.S. bishops' committee on religious liberty today hailed the U.S. Supreme Court's 7-2 decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer as a "landmark victory for religious freedom." 

The case stems from a simple incident. Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center in Columbia, Missouri, wanted to replace its pea gravel playground with a rubber surface made from recycled tires. It applied for funding from the  Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which operates a grant program for such purposes. Although the organization ranked high with its application, it was denied a grant because the Missouri Constitution prohibits the state from providing  financial assistance directly to a church. Trinity Lutheran sued, claiming the state's refusal violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In writing the majority opinion of the high court, Chief Justice John Roberts held that the department's policy did infringe on Trinity Lutheran's First Amendment rights because it was denying an otherwise available public benefit on account of the group's religious status.

As chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' religious freedom committee, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore issued a press release praising the ruling.

"The Supreme Court rightly recognized that people of faith should not be discriminated against when it comes to government programs that should be made available to all," Archbishop Lori wrote.

Justice Sonya Sotomayor dissented, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined in that dissent.