Supreme Court rules in favour of Lutheran Church over funding dispute

US Supreme Court sided with Trinity Lutheran Church in a major state-church rulingReuters

The Supreme Court has ruled that a playground owned by a Lutheran church can receive a subsidy from a state programme.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbus, Missouri, wanted financial help in resurfacing the playground which is used by its pre-school. It qualified for the support from the state but the natural resources department eventually said the money wouldn't be forthcoming because Missouri's state constitution bans taxpayer money being used to support churches.

The Eighth US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the decision but then the case went to the Supreme Court.

The higher court then reversed the decision and sent the case back to lower courts.

It's one of the first major cases to be decided since Donald Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, took his place on the bench. As is often the case with such cases, larger organisations lined up to support the opposing sides. The American Civil Liberties Union supported the original decision, while the Alliance Defending Freedom helped with the church's case.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Sonia Sotomayor said, 'The Court today profoundly changes that relationship [between church and state] by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church.' She went on to argue that, 'its decision slights both our precedents and our history, and its reasoning weakens this country's longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both.'

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said, 'In this case, there is no dispute that Trinity Lutheran is put to the choice between being a church and receiving a government benefit. The rule is simple: No churches need apply.' He went on to say this was, 'odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.'