Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center simply wanted to make its facility safer for the children who use it. That’s why the center applied for a state grant to get recycled tire products to resurface the playground.
But the state of Missouri rejected the Columbia school’s application, saying it would violate the separation of church and state.
Now the case has made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where arguments were heard Wednesday.
“The safety of children on Christian pre-school playgrounds is not less important than the safety of children on other playgrounds,” said Joel Oster, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom. “Providing grants for recycled tires to create a safe environment for children is not a government promotion of any religious doctrine. In fact, both the state Constitution and the U.S. Constitution prohibit this type of hostility to religion.”
Annette Kiehne is director of the Child Learning Center.
“We aren’t asking for special treatment,” she said on the steps of the Supreme Court after the hearing. “We are just asking to not be treated worse than everyone else. Whether you are a Jewish, Muslim, or Christian kid, or not religious at all, when you fall down on a playground, it hurts just as much at a religious preschool as it does at a non-religious one. We trust and pray that the Supreme Court will consider that carefully, and rule in favor of the safety of children everywhere.”
One of the key issues concerns the future of something called Blaine Amendments. These 19th century laws were designed to discriminate against Catholic schools and prevent money from going to them. Today that’s resulted in all Christian schools facing hurdles that other private schools do not.
“Family Policy Alliance believes that parents should be free to send their children to the school where they have the best chance of success,” said Policy Director Autumn Leva. “Blaine Amendments pose a serious barrier to that freedom. We will continue to work with our state-based allies to ensure that school funding is structured so that families are best able to send their children to the right school for them.”
The justices have taken more than 30 cases. One in particular could impact religious freedom. It involves a church in Missouri that applied for a state grant to cover its daycare playground with ground rubber tires. Even though the church qualified, the state turned down the application citing the separation of church and state.
“Can a state really take the position that we have a higher wall between the separation of church and state in our state than in the federal Constitution?” attorney Paul Clement asked at an event at the Heritage Foundation. “It’ll be a hard case to duck.”
But it appears they are trying. Even though they have agreed to hear it, the Trinity Lutheran case does not appear on the court docket. Many are speculating that they’re waiting until a new justice joins them.