Missourians Respond to Supreme Court Church Ruling

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. –- A United States Supreme Court ruling Monday will allow Missouri churches to accept government funding for certain, non-religious things, like school playgrounds.

The ruling comes after Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia effectively sued the state of Missouri, in Trinity Lutheran of Columbia v. Comer, for excluding it from a grant program using recycled tires to make playground surfaces safer. Carol Comer is the director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which denied the church’s request to be considered for the grant program.

Like many supreme court rulings, the impact of Monday’s decision is expected to reach much farther than the Missouri state borders.

“The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has not subjected anyone to chains or torture on account of religion,” the ruling  said. “The consequence is, in all likelihood, a few extra scraped knees. But the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.”

Mike McShane, the director of educational policy for the Show-Me Institute, said the ruling in favor of the Missouri church is expected to ripple throughout the country.

"The ruling today was specifically talking about Missouri's constitution, but it would apply to constitutions in 38 other states,” McShane said.

McShane said the ruling makes it possible for religious organizations to apply for grants, but does not guarantee they will be awarded any money.

"So it doesn't put its thumb on the scale and give bonus points because an organization is religious, but it also can't discriminate against it,” he said.

Gov. Eric Greitens tweeted Monday morning after the decision, writing, "Proud to have reversed Missouri policy that discriminated against faith groups. Today, SCOTUS agreed, 7-2. Great victory for people of faith."

Twitter uses were quick to fire back, some citing taxes.

Sondra said, “I don’t want any of my tax dollars for any religious group. I have faith but it is tax free so  they don’t need my tax dollars."

Others seemingly challenged Greitens on religious inclusion.

Caitlin said, “By faith you mean only Christianity, yes?”

The ruling itself is not specific to one religion, and only applies to non-religious activities within the church.

"It's not about constructing churches, or buying Bibles, or any of that sort of stuff,” McShane said.

The ACLU of Missouri commented on the ruling Monday.

“Today’s decision is disappointing because religious freedom should protect unwilling taxpayers from funding church property, not force them to foot the bill,” Tony Rothert, the ACLU of Missouri’s legal director, said. “The court’s ruling, however, is limited to the peculiar facts of the case and does not give the government unlimited authority to fund religious activity.”

The Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau also issued a statement Monday:

“Given the Church's commitments toward charitable outreach, education, health-care, and our preferential option for the poor, no matter one's religion, we find it good news that the US Supreme Court ruled today that states cannot discriminate against faith-based institutions when giving grants for secular purposes.”

KOLR10 reached out to several other local churches that denied comment.


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