Today the U.S. Supreme Court decided that government may not discriminate against faith-based organizations when it seeks partners to carry out secular purposes. In a 7-2 vote, the court ruled that the State of Missouri was wrong to deny playground safety material made of recycled tires to a preschool run by the Trinity Lutheran Church.
The school, which serves children of all faiths, had submitted one of the highest ranked proposals in the competitive bidding process. The state relied on a common constitutional provision, known as the Blaine Amendment, that is replicated in about three-quarters of the states.
“This is a win for children, but even more for the equal treatment of all religious Americans,” said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). “People of faith do not seek special preferences, but we do expect to be treated fairly when we offer to partner with government to advance public purposes. The Establishment Clause is not a license to discriminate against churches.”
The court said that Missouri “expressly requires Trinity Lutheran to renounce its religious character in order to participate in an otherwise generally available public benefit program, for which it is fully qualified.” This action, said the court, “violated the rights of Trinity Lutheran Church under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by denying the church an otherwise available public benefit on account of its religious status.”
The National Association of Evangelicals filed an amicus brief in the case.