The high court, today, scolded a Missouri govt. policy which treated faith groups as non-citizens when it came to a govt. program to assist in providing playgrounds to the public.
By a 7-2 vote, the justices sided with Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, which had sought a grant to put a soft surface on its preschool playground. The church was denied any money even though its application was ranked fifth out of 44 submissions.
Chief Justice John Roberts said for the court that the state violated the First Amendment by denying a public benefit to an otherwise eligible recipient solely on account of its religious status. He called it "odious to our Constitution" to exclude the church from the grant program, even though the consequences are only "a few extra scraped knees." Read the full decision. Sotomayor & Ginsberg dissented.
The case arose from an application the church submitted in 2012 to take part in Missouri's scrap tire grant program, which reimburses the cost of installing a rubberized playground surface made from recycled tires. The money comes from a fee paid by anyone who buys a new tire. The church's application to resurface the playground for its preschool and daycare ranked fifth out of 44 applicants. (read the AP's full report)
But the state's Department of Natural Resources rejected the application, pointing to the part of the state constitution that says "no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion."
That language in Missouri's founding document is very similar to Oklahoma's Constitution's clause. James Blaine was a the Speaker of the House, in D.C., and a candidate for president. For more about him, read our 2015 blog post. Here is Oklahoma's clause, inspired by Blaine and inserted by Alfalfa Bill Murray, when he presided over the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention.
Public money or property - Use for sectarian purposes. No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.
Therefor, today's ruling must also comply in that no faith group can be subjected to additional regulation, prohibition, or stipulation which wouldn't be applied to any other Oklahoma citizen or entity.
This wouldn't necessarily overturn the famous 'ten Commandments' ruling and put the monument back on the capitol grounds. But if the legislature authorizes any other entity to apply to place a similar monument on the soil of the seat of government, then the stone tablets would also then be provided equal opportunity, under this landmark ruling.
The 7-2 decision was instructional in the reading of the concurrences & distensions. Sotomayor and Ginsberg were strident in their fear-mongering of the heinous evils of Christianity. But even more enlightening was the depth of concurrence and collaborations of Gorsuch & Thomas. Conservatives can take heart from this, in that Gorsuch may be a soulmate of the Thomas philosophy.
This ruling is only necessary because the Missouri government ventured into a non-essential service to her people. Any social project like this will result in more of these legal dramas. A better course of action is for state to scale back both her essential mandates, and her heavy tax burdens placed on the backs of her residents.