Wednesday, April 27, 2016
As many readers know, the Supreme Court is currently considering Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley, a case about discrimination against churches in state funding programs. The Religious Liberty Appellate Clinic at St. Thomas, which I supervise, filed an amicus brief on behalf of several church-related groups and other religious organizations.
The case involves exclusion of a church from a Missouri state program that provides funds to non-profit institutions to help them resurface their playgrounds using rubber from recycled tires. Trinity Lutheran Church, which operates a preschool and day-care center, applied for funds because its current playground surface posed dangers to children who fell while playing. The church would have qualified for a grant, but the state excluded it solely because it was a church. Trinity argues that this discrimination against religion violates the Free Exercise Clause.
Here is a passage from our brief that gives the gist of its argument:
By its exclusion, the state has denied equal treatment with respect to one of government’s core functions: protection of the safety and health of persons within its jurisdiction. In a real sense, such an exclusion treats religious persons as less than equal citizens – as it would if the state were to deny other safety benefits such as police or fire protection. The children who attend petitioner’s preschool and daycare are entitled to the same eligibility for state safety benefits asare children who attend nonreligious institutions.... When a Lutheran child trips or falls on an “unforgiving” surface, her head injury is no less serious than if she attended a nonreligious private school.
Luke Kane, J.D. class of 2018, did excellent drafting work on the brief.