The U.S. Supreme Court recently handed down a game-changing win for religious rights in America. In a 7-2 decision, the high court supported a church’s claim that it should be eligible for public funds in secular areas that provide a community benefit.
The case, called Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, revolved around the religious institution being denied funding for a playground resurfacing grant. The state declined to approve funding for the children’s playground based on a church and state separation policy. While the case may not make the splashy headlines of President Donald Trump’s travel ban win, it has far reaching implications.
The Trinity Lutheran case was a high stakes issue for every religious institution in the country. If Trinity lost, the precedent could set progress back a generation in terms of wide ranging access to public funds. Consider that things such as disaster, hurricane, flooding, health insurance and FEMA loans are tied to government funds in many instances. Losing the Trinity case could have disqualified churches from all of it.
Future Trinity Implications
The Trinity win will have profound implications across the nation and may effectively strike down more than 30 state laws barring religious organization from receiving public money. The door is wide open now and churches can apply, and potentially receive, funding for secular uses that may include property renovations, Main Street grants, after-school programs and many others. If a religious organization doesn’t bring God into the picture, it has a right to access funding.
But the ruling may also be a precursor for any battle over school vouchers. The current administration and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos favor expanding the program and widening the door for more religious and private schools. The high court has a history of narrow 5-4 decisions allowing religious school vouchers, but with very strong dissent. Fortunately for conservatives, the court appears to be moving right, and this 7-2 victory gives religious institutions a tremendous leg up.
When paired with the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision that paved the way for vouchers, religious groups can now passively receive and actively apply for public funds. What this means in terms for pro-school choice advocates is that religious schools would have the ability to compete with public schools over funding.
As long as the educational programs remain relatively secular, grants for computers, books, AV equipment and perhaps even teacher salaries could be on the table. The now conservative-leaning Supreme Court has moved toward a level playing field between public and religious-affiliated education.
Court to Hear More Religious Cases
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a high-profile case involving a Colorado baker who refuses to make wedding cakes for same-sex marriages, saying it runs contrary to his religious beliefs. This may mark another landmark decision.
Many devout, religious business owners in a variety of industries believe they should not be compelled to provide services for same-sex marriages. In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, owner Jack Phillips argues his First Amendment rights of speech and religious freedom are being violated.
With newly appointed Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch on the court, Phillips’ chances have definitely improved. Gorsuch received widespread notoriety as a 10th Circuit judge for ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby’s religious right to not provide birth control in its health plan, based on religious beliefs. The Masterpiece Bakery case has echoes of Hobby Lobby.
It seems unlikely the high court would rule to compel a business owner to perform a service against their wishes, which would be a form of involuntary servitude. The case pits religion against gay civil rights. Should Justice Anthony Kennedy retire as rumored, a conservative replacement by President Trump and the GOP-led Senate would surely win the day for religious rights for decades to come.
And, although Trump won the significant issues regarding presidential authority to implement a travel ban, the court plans to hear arguments about it potentially being a type of Muslim or religious ban. That raises a key Constitutional issue, because the document’s Framers provided the executive branch full authority to bar classes or groups of people.
There appears to be no check on banning a religious group in its entirety, even though the current travel ban effects only a fraction of the world’s Muslim population. The backend to that question is that the president is not necessarily required to prove his case. Even if the president is wrong, travel bans enjoy force of law.
It’s likely the Supreme Court will look to create some type of standard regarding religious bans. However, foreign religious entities who lack legal standing are likely to come up short against national security interests.
~ Conservative Zone