Monday, June 26, 2017
Thanks to Rick and Marc for the good additional thoughts on Trinity Lutheran.
Rick rightly says that the fact that church daycare admitted students of different faiths was not relevant to the Court's free exercise holding. It makes little sense as a matter of constitutional doctrine to say that the church has constitutional status of religious equality but loses that status as a constitutional matter if it does what a church does, like choose members or employees based on its faith. On the other hand, I think it would get a little trickier (under precedent, that is) if the state adopted a regulation saying that all recipients of the funding must obey rules of nondiscrimination based on religion. The Court in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez treated that as a neutral, generally applicable rule and upheld it. Now, Martinez was a terrible decision--among other things because so-called "religious discrimination" by a religious group is simply an act defining the group around its mission in the way that all mission-oriented groups do. That reality is not changed merely because a state passes a regulation calling it impermissible discrimination. Nevertheless Martinez is out there and--like other regulatory conditions on access to benefits--will probably be the major sort of issue going forward, as I suggested in part 2 of my first post.
Marc asks why the arguments about the animus behind Blaine Amendments didn't figure in the Trinity opinion. One answer is that the arguments were not very strong concerning Missouri Article I, section 7, the exclusion of churches, the provision to which the state pointed. Exclusion of churches from funding predates the Catholic-Protestant controversies (including Blaine) by decades--unlike exclusion of religious schooling, which was intimately bound up with mid-19th-century anti-Catholicism and Protestant-oriented public school policies. Moreover, claims of "animus" (and similar claims like "gerrymandering" or "intentional targeting") end up being stronger or weaker according to the degree of disproportionate effect on the allegedly targeted group. (Say what you want about the Trump travel ban, its restriction falls almost entirely on Muslims; no one has ever claimed Trump's anti-Muslim campaign statements would invalidate the order in the absence of this strong discriminatory effect.) Missouri's exclusion of churches may have been enacted during the anti-Catholic period around the Blaine Amendment, but it hit Protestants too because, well, they have churches--while the exclusion of K-12 schools (especially of "sectarian" schools) hit almost solely Catholics and very few Protestants. As such, the Blaine/animus arguments did not resonate particularly well in Trinity and were a minor part of the church's briefing. What resonated far more was the simple wrongness of disqualifying a church, whose playground serves kids whose interests matter as much as any other kids.' But I suspect that Blaine arguments will remain central in cases like Douglas County (see their amicus brief here) from Colorado, whose 1876 provision focused on "sectarian" schools. (I assume Douglas County will be GVRed, the Colorado courts on remand will continue to reject the Blaine and other arguments, and they'll all come back to the Supreme Court in a year or two.)