Tuesday, October 3, 2017
From me. Here. A bit:
Americans have, for better or worse, grown used to overconfident pronouncements from the members of the Supreme Court about matters – the true nature of golf, for example, or the long-term cultural implications of social media – that might seem outside their training and expertise. That said, Chief Justice Roberts was on pretty solid ground when he observed, in his opinion for the Court in the recent Trinity Lutheran case, that “[y]oungsters . . . often fall on the playground or tumble from the equipment. And when they do, the gravel can be unforgiving.” And, the foundation is no less firm for the Court’s conclusion that the First Amendment does not permit governments to discriminate against religious believers and organizations when distributing public benefits.
The Trinity Lutheran litigation was about replacing the pea-gravel on a church-run preschool’s playground with shredded scrap tires. The question presented to the justices was whether the Constitution allows the state of Missouri to refuse an otherwise-available reimbursement grant for this project simply because the applicant is a church. By a vote of 7-2, they concluded – correctly, I believe – that it does not. It is, as the Chief Justice wrote, a “basic principle” that the First Amendment “protect[s] religious observers against unequal treatment[.]” However, while the Court answered this question clearly, the ruling invited, and ignored, others. As a result, the case’s implications and impact are, for now, uncertain. . . .