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.