US top court urged to decide church case despite state policy flip

Louis-based 8th U.S. The ACLU and Americans United wrote that the governor’s announcement means that the church has gotten exactly what it wanted because it can now apply for the grant. RELATED: With Trump pick aboard, top US court tackles religious rights

The case, which tests the limits of religious freedom, is one of the most important before the court in its current term. Three-quarters of the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the case despite a pivotal policy change by the state’s Republican governor. WASHINGTON (Reuters) Missouri officials and a church embroiled in a closely watched dispute over public money going to religious entities urged the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2015 upheld a trial court’s dismissal of the suit, and the church appealed to the Supreme Court. 18, 2016. states have similar provisions as the Missouri constitution. Constitution’s First Amendment calls for a separation of church and state and guarantees the free exercise of religion. The St. Email RNS photo by Sally Morrow
Trinity Lutheran, which runs a preschool and daycare center, said Missouri unlawfully excluded it from the grant program that allows nonprofit groups to buy rubber playground surfaces, and sued in federal court in 2012. A victory at the Supreme Court for Trinity Lutheran could help religious organizations nationwide win public dollars for certain purposes, such as health and safety. “Given this dramatic change … the state is not in a position to present in this court a vigorous defense of its past policy,” the groups said. In a separate letter, the American Civil Liberties Union and the advocacy group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which backed the state’s ban, asked the justices to drop the case, saying it is now moot following Greitens’ decision to let churches apply for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources funds. The U.S. Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group representing Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri, and the state attorney general’s office wrote letters Tuesday (April 18) to the justices saying the one-hour argument set for Wednesday should proceed. “Here, though the state agency is no longer denying benefits to organizations solely because of their religious affiliation, there is no clearly effective barrier that would prevent the agency from reinstating that policy in the future,” John Sauer of the Missouri attorney general’s office wrote. It also could buttress the case for using taxpayer money for vouchers to help pay for children to attend religious schools rather than public schools in “school choice” programs advocated by conservatives. The justices asked the parties in the case their views on whether it should proceed after Governor Eric Greitens last Thursday reversed policy and said churches can seek state funds for playgrounds to be resurfaced even though Missouri’s constitution bars “any church, sect or denomination of religion” from receiving state taxpayer money. Questions? Children play on a gravel playground at Trinity Lutheran Church’s Child Learning Center in Columbia, Mo., on Oct. (Additional reporting by Andrew Chung)

News Wire Subscribers: This article is not available for republication. Alliance Defending Freedom lawyer David Cortman wrote that the governor’s policy change was “late in the day” and could someday be reversed. The groups urged the court against ruling on an important constitutional issue in a case in which the two parties are in agreement. “Governor Greiten’s eleventh-hour policy change does not moot this case and this court should proceed to a decision on the merits,” Cortman said.