Supreme Court: Government Can’t Exclude Christian Groups From Programs Just Because They’re Christian

National   Steven Ertelt   Jun 26, 2017   |   12:00PM    Washington, DC

In a huge victory, the Supreme Court today ruled that government programs can’t exclude Christian groups from them just because they are Christian.

The specifics of the case at issue are not directly related to pro-life causes but the decision certainly could have impact on pro-life organizations. Previously, Christian-based abstinence organizations have been denied funding and pro-life organizations have been denied participation in governmental programs.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 Monday that the government cannot exclude churches and other faith-based organizations from a secular government program simply because of their religious identity. This marked the first major religious liberty case since Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to the Court earlier this year.

The much-anticipated decision came in the case Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, involving a church-run preschool in Missouri. The state denied the church a partial reimbursement grant for rubberized playground surface material made from recycled tires solely because a church runs the preschool, even though the only purpose of the grant program is to improve children’s safety.

“The Supreme Court’s decision today affirms the commonsense principle that government isn’t being neutral when it treats religious organizations worse than everyone else,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman, who argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of Trinity Lutheran Church in April. “Equal treatment of a religious organization in a program that provides only secular benefits, like a partial reimbursement grant for playground surfacing, isn’t a government endorsement of religion. As the Supreme Court rightly found, unequal treatment that singles out a preschool for exclusion from such a program simply because a church runs the school is clearly unconstitutional.”

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“[T]he exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution…, and cannot stand,” the Supreme Court wrote in its opinion.

“Today is a momentous day for freedom,” said ADF President, CEO, and General Counsel Michael Farris. “We didn’t ask for special treatment. We asked for equal treatment for people of faith. And the court agreed that the government cannot discriminate against people of faith by treating them unequally.”

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, Legal Advisor with The Catholic Association told LifeNews: “Americans of all creeds live our faith not just where we worship but by serving our neighbors at soup kitchens, rehab programs, crisis pregnancy centers and even (like the petitioners in Trinity Lutheran) preschools with outdoor playgrounds. Today’s decision recognizes the important contributions made in America by faith-based groups.”

Although the state highly ranked Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center as qualified for the program (fifth out of 44 nonprofit applicants), it denied the center’s application solely because a church runs the preschool. Children in the community also use the playground after hours and on the weekends, and more than 90 percent of the children who attend the preschool do not attend the church.

The outcome of the case was considered critical because, under the state’s logic, the government potentially could deny churches access to any nonreligious public benefit, such as fire services or water treatment.