In Closely Watched Church-and-State Case, Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Missouri Church

June 26, 2017 Updated: June 26, 2017

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today in favor of a Missouri church that was denied state funds for resurfacing a playground.

Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, was excluded from state funding due to a provision in the state’s constitution that barred funds from religious institutions. The funds in question were to be used for installing soft surfaces on the playground to prevent injuries.

The case was closely watched by proponents of education vouchers, because it could open the door for easier state funding for private, religious schools in states that now prohibit it, according to the Associated Press.

“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,” wrote Justice John Glover Roberts Jr.

Missouri Governor Eric Greitens has since changed the policy, with Missouri churches now able to apply for state funding.

One of the footnotes to the ruling may have prevented it from being used as a precedent for a related case, but did not have the support from the majority of the justices to make it “the opinion of the court.”

Footnote number 3 states, “This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.”

Four justices sided with the note, but Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch did not.

This leaves the ruling up to broad interpretation, emboldening advocates of school choice and vouchers, a policy supported by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who President Donald Trump appointed to carry out his education agenda.

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