The power of a playground
Same-sex marriage. Abortion. Playgrounds?
Next to some of the more hot-button cases that have come up before the Supreme Court in recent years, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, which was decided Monday morning in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church, seems almost incidental. The case began in 2012, when a Lutheran preschool in Columbia, Missouri, was denied state funds to purchase used rubber tires to resurface its playground because it’s a religious institution.
But despite (indeed, because of) the relatively un-dramatic facts of the case, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer could potentially be one of the most significant SCOTUS decisions of the year, setting the tone for generations of legislation about the separation between church and state on the state level, and potentially paving the way for more radical education reform, like the use of state vouchers for religious schools.
The case started small — over the purchasing of tire rubber for a playground surface
Back in 2012, several nonprofit organizations, including Trinity Lutheran Church, in Columbia, Missouri, applied for state grants to purchase recycled tire rubber. In Trinity’s case, the rubber would be used to repave the playground of its early childhood education center. The nonprofits were ranked by Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources, and Trinity came fifth of 44 candidates. The top 14 candidates were slated for funding, but Trinity was judged ineligible based on the state constitution, which states, “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion.”
A federal district court for the Western District of Missouri dismissed the case, prompting Trinity to take the case to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The church argued once again that Article 7, Section 1 of Missouri’s constitution infringed on their First Amendment free exercise of religion (dropping the free speech argument) in addition to 14th Amendment rights. The circuit court affirmed the district court’s dismissal.
The church sued Missouri’s director of natural resources, Sarah Parker Pauley, arguing that their ineligibility violated the federal First Amendment — they were denied free exercise of religion and freedom of speech — and the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under state law.
This article continues at [Vox] What a SCOTUS decision over a church playground means for religious freedom in America