Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer

By a vote of 7-2, the Supreme Court of the United States held that it was unconstitutional under the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment for the government to withhold funding from a church for a resurfacing project simply because it was a religious institution, if funds would be available for non-religious institutions to engage in similar projects.

The state of Missouri offered funding to non-profit organizations that would participate in a program to use recycled tires for resurfacing projects.  But state policy prohibited offering taxpayer funds to religious institutions and pursuant to this policy a church was denied funds to resurface its playground.

A majority of the Supreme Court found that the government unconstitutionally treated the church unequally by withholding funds that were available to non-religious institutions engaged in identical projects.  In a footnote, the Supreme Court limited the holding to the facts of this case – – it was unconstitutional to deny funds to  a church resurfacing its playground.  This leaves open the question as to whether a religious institution engaged in another type of projects could be denied state funding.  Some Supreme Court justices supported a more expansive decision that would not have been limited to the facts of this case.  They supported a broader rule that states could not deny funds to religious institutions.

In a dissent, two justices argued that providing taxpayer funds to the Church violated the Establishment Clause.  They emphasized the religious mission of the Church and that government should not fund religious institutions.

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