If you read anything about the Supreme Court today, it was likely that they upheld a good portion of Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. If that alone didn’t show you that elections matter, a decision that’s largely been flying under the radar is at least equally disturbing. In a brutal wound to the First Amendment, the court told states that they have no right to not fund churches, even if separation of church and state is in their constitutions.
The case surrounded a playground in Missouri and it all seems like a no-brainer when you look at the surface. Missouri wanted to make playgrounds safer, but their state constitution prohibited state money from making church playgrounds after. Who could possibly be against making playgrounds safer, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. As I mentioned, giving taxpayer money to churches is part of Missouri’s constitution. Thirty-eight states have similar conditions.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion, felt that not providing money to churches was discriminatory.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said the United States Constitution forbids some forms of discrimination against religious institutions. Officials in Missouri, he wrote, were not entitled to reject an application from a Lutheran church for a grant to use recycled tires to resurface a playground.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented. Sotomayor got to the heart of the issue in her dissenting opinion, which is that it’s not just about playgrounds.
To hear the Court tell it, this is a simple case about recycling tires to resurface a playground. The stakes are higher. This case is about nothing less than the relation- ship between religious institutions and the civil govern- ment—that is, between church and state. The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church. 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.
Imagine if instead of playgrounds, this case was about pregnancy and STD prevention among teenagers. Would states be forced to fund church-based abstinence only programs at the same rate as they fund scientifically-based approaches? Are states expected to fund discrimination against LGBTQ people?
The fact is that churches pay no taxes, in part because of separation of church and state and in part to leave them alone to do the charity work they do. They are already taxpayer funded, just by the mere fact that they don’t pay taxes.
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