Washington, D.C. | The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in a religious freedom case is not about government funding of the church’s mission, but it will have far-reaching results, a Capitol Hill audience was told June 29.
A discussion co-sponsored by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) explained the impact of a June 26 opinion by the high court and how Christians should respond to the debate over church-state relations.
It focused on the justices’ decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, a 7-2 opinion in which the justices ruled Missouri violated the free exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment by barring a church from participating in a government-run, playground-resurfacing program. The state had rejected the application of the Trinity Lutheran Church Learning Center from participation in the program—which provided safer playground surfaces—solely because of its affiliation with the church.
ERLC President Russell Moore said the case may leave some with the mistaken impression it does not apply to them or Christians want “the government financing the mission of the church.”
“This case isn’t about whether the government is going to intrude itself and its money into the mission of the church,” Moore told those gathered at the Rayburn House of Representatives Office Building. “What it’s about is whether the government is going to come in and say, ‘This is for all of you in the community, but if you are a religious person or group or organization, on the basis of that you cannot even come and have this conversation and be in this place.’”
Missouri and nearly 40 other states have what are known as Blaine amendments, provisions in their constitutions that restrict direct or indirect funding to churches and other religious organizations.
The justices ruled “those provisions can no longer be used to exclude religious organizations from any type of government benefit,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman, who argued on behalf of Trinity Lutheran before the Supreme Court.
“What’s great about this case is it will cut the legs out from those states using those type of amendments to say, ‘You’re otherwise qualified for this program, whatever that happens to be, but solely because of your religious status and who you are you can’t participate.’”