WASHINGTON — The Latest on the Supreme Court ruling for a Missouri church (all times local):
Supporters of school vouchers say they hope today’s Supreme Court ruling lays the groundwork for a future decision on whether states can let parents choose to send their children to religious schools through publicly funded programs.
The court today found that Missouri violated the First Amendment by denying public money to a church for a playground because of its religious status.
Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, says the principle of “religious neutrality” applies “whether the government is enabling schools to resurface their playgrounds or empowering parents to direct their children’s education.”
Civil liberties groups called the ruling a blow to the principle of church-state separation.
The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, says it “threatens to open the door to more taxpayer support for religion.”
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is praising a Supreme Court decision that found the state of Missouri violated the First Amendment by denying public money to a church for a playground solely because of its religious status.
DeVos says the ruling makes clear that “programs designed to help students will no longer be discriminated against by the government based solely on religious affiliation.”
DeVos is a strong proponent of school voucher programs, which use public money to help low-income students attend private schools, including religious ones. Some critics argue using public money for religious school tuition is a violation of the Constitution’s separation of church and state.
The Education Department budget proposal includes more than $1 billion to expand school choice, including $250 million for a nationwide voucher program.
The Supreme Court has ruled that churches have the same right as other charitable groups to seek state money for new playground surfaces and other non-religious needs.
The justices on Monday ruled 7-2 in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri. The church sought a grant to put a soft surface on its preschool playground, but was denied any money even though its application was ranked fifth out of 44 submissions.
Chief Justice John Roberts said for the court that it “is odious to our Constitution” to exclude the church from the grant program. Roberts said that’s true even though the consequences are only “a few extra scraped knees.”