Gorsuch on bench for landmark religious freedom case

Justice Neil Gorsuch heard oral arguments Wednesday in one of his first cases sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court bench – and it was a critical religious freedom case.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys argued the case on behalf of Trinity Lutheran Church in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v Comer. The justices will decide if the state of Missouri can exclude churches from grants funding rubber tire playground padding simply because they are churches. Children should receive the same safety measures protecting them from scraped knees and worse whether they are on a church playground or some other playground.

Missouri denied Trinity Lutheran Church the grant to protect their playground because the Missouri Constitution includes a Blaine Amendment, which prohibits public money from being spent on religious organizations. The Blaine Amendment was founded in the anti-Catholic sentiment of the 1800s.

Nearly 40 states have Blaine Amendments in their state constitutions. The outcome of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v Comer may set a precedent for similar amendments in other states, including Arizona. Ideally, the Supreme Court will rule these amendments too broad and discriminating, and affirm the rights of religious organizations.

Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog analyzed Wednesday’s oral arguments, finding strong support in favor of the church. Read her take here.

A late development may throw a wrench in the case: Just days before oral arguments, the state of Missouri decided to go ahead and allow Trinity the grant. Both sides requested to move forward with the case, but justices could deem it moot and choose to dismiss the case altogether. This unlikely scenario would leave Blaine Amendments unchallenged, keeping the door open to more discrimination against churches.If the Court doesn’t dismiss the case, a ruling would come in late June. Read more about he case and Alliance Defending Freedom’s role in it here. Watch a short video about the church’s case here.

A good indication

During Justice Gorsuch’s first case Monday, he noted, “It would be a lot simpler if we just followed the text of the statute.” This is refreshing for those of us who support a textualist or originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, not one that reflects the justices’ ideological opinions.

Arizona legislative update

Governor Ducey signed another CAP-supported bill this week. HB 2389 will ensure government agencies recognize transcripts and diplomas from all educational options, including home schools.
Read about it on our bill tracker here.

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