Missouri Must Pay Church for Resurfaced Playground

This was by far the Supreme Court’s most newsworthy First Amendment case this term. (You may have read about it in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, or other news organization.) Missouri has a program that will partially reimburse schools, daycares, and other entities if they resurface their playgrounds with rubber from recycled tires. (Used tires in landfills are bad, and apparently it’s worse to burn them.) But Missouri had a policy of denying reimbursement to any church or religious group because the state wanted to avoid appearing to favor or benefit a religious organization. So Missouri denied Trinity Lutheran’s request when they asked, and the church sued.

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Trinity Lutheran Church

The Supreme Court ruled for the church because Missouri had intentionally singled our religious groups for disfavored treatment, which the Court found to be a violation of the Free Exercise Clause. It is worth noting that both the church and Missouri agreed that, if Missouri included the church in its program, it would not run afoul of the Establishment Clause. (Fun fact: the church is this case was seeking just $20,000 to help offset the cost of the $30,000 resurfacing. Sometimes it’s not about the money, it’s about the principle of the matter.)

Case: Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, No. 15-577 (U.S. June 26, 2017) (opinion here)

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