In just a few weeks the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, the most important religious liberty case it has considered in nearly three decades – and a case that originated right here in Missouri. The question before the Court is: “Does the First Amendment allow governments to discriminate against religious organizations for no reason other than that they are religious?”
The way the Supreme Court answers this question will have far-reaching impact because more than two-thirds of the states have provisions in their constitutions that prohibit the use of public money “in aid of” religious groups. Many of these states have already recognized that the goal of these provisions is to prevent the government from subsidizing religious practice, not to exclude religious groups from participating in secular government programs otherwise open to all. But Missouri’s courts have interpreted Article I, section 7, and Article IX, section 8, very strictly, which is why the government refused to give Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia a grant for putting a rubberized surface on a playground open for public use, even though its application scored very highly according to the purely secular criteria the government used to decide which non-profit groups would receive grants. The government’s position was that Trinity Lutheran must be excluded from this purely secular grant program simply because it is a religious organization.
Dave recently discussed this case and the broader issues surrounding it in a series for Law Meets Gospel, a podcast hosted by Josh Tatum, who was one of Dave’s classmates in the Law and Religion joint degree program at Vanderbilt University. Mr. Tatum is an attorney in Indianapolis, Indiana, whose practice includes advising and representing churches and other religious organizations on a wide range of legal matters. His podcast is intended to help people of faith (and the attorneys that assist them) gain a better understanding of how legal principles impact faith communities. The episodes in which Dave is a special guest are embedded below: