Following oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Wednesday, things are looking good for a Lutheran Church who claims that the State of Missouri discriminated against them because of their religious status.
In Justice Gorsuch’s first week on the job, the fully-staffed court heard the case of Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, which asks whether or not a church can be denied access to a public safety program that provides grants for playground construction due solely to its status as a religious institution.The church was denied access to the program — which would have helped replace its pea-gravel surface with more boo-boo resistant tire scraps — due to a Blaine Amendment, a political product of 19th Century religious bigotry that blocks religious institutions from receiving public funds.
Now it’s up to the court to decide whether or not Missouri’s decision to block them over the state constitution’s provision violates the church’s First and 14th Amendment rights.
The church’s attorneys and supporters believe things went well in court, as evidenced by reactions after the arguments, in which questions from even the Left side of the bench seemed to be sympathetic to the Church’s case over the state’s.
— Jacqueline Fell (@jackiefell) April 19, 2017
— Steven Mazie (@stevenmazie) April 19, 2017
Vote could be 6-3 or even 7-2, with both Kagan and Breyer seeming sympathetic to the church at times.
— Amy Howe (@AHoweBlogger) April 19, 2017
Supreme Court looks set to rule in church-state case, and could be a lopsided win for Trinity Lutheran Church
— Lawrence Hurley (@lawrencehurley) April 19, 2017
Gorsuch didn’t say much—only asked a few questions. But this didn’t seem like it was heading toward a 5-4 decision.
— Sam Baker (@sam_baker) April 19, 2017
This case, of course, is predicated primarily on the meaning of the separation of church and state — which might be the biggest misnomer in First Amendment jurisprudence in existence.
For one, the phrase exists nowhere in the Constitution, nor was it present in debates over the bill of rights. As Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, explained in his 2015 book “Our Lost Constituiton”, the concept originally appeared in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Baptists of Danbury Connecticut.
Yet, in 1947, that single line in a single letter from a single president wormed its way into the body of constitutional law thanks to a decision in a case regarding private funding of transportation for Catholic schools written by Justice Hugo Black — a former Klansman with a documented history of anti-Catholic animus.
Now, depending on the court rules, Trinity Lutheran’s case could have a monumental impact on the relationship between government resources and private, religious institutions in the over three dozen states with Blaine Amendments. That could mean big changes on things like school voucher programs and, yes, skinned knees.
As Conservative Review has previously covered, proponents of the state’s actions like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State claim that this kind of strict separation is necessary to insulate politics from religion and vice versa.
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