Religious Liberty Appellate Clinic files an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court

April 27, 2016

The Religious Liberty Appellate Clinic files an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court this past week in its current First Amendment case, Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley.

The case involves exclusion of a church from a Missouri state program that provides funds to non-profit institutions to help them resurface their playgrounds using rubber from recycled tires. Trinity Lutheran Church, which operates a preschool and day-care center, applied for funds because its current playground surface posed dangers to children who fell while playing. The church would have qualified for a grant, but the state excluded it solely because it was a church. Trinity argues that this discrimination against religion violates the First Amendment's protection for the free exercise of religion.

The amicus brief, drafted by Luke Kane '18 and Professor Tom Berg, was filed on behalf of several denominations and other religious organizations. Here is a passage that summarizes the argument: 

By its exclusion, the state has denied equal treatment with respect to one of government’s core functions: protection of the safety and health of persons within its jurisdiction. In a real sense, such an exclusion treats religious persons as less than equal citizens – as it would if the state were to deny other safety benefits such as police or fire protection. The children who attend petitioner’s preschool and daycare are entitled to the same eligibility for state safety benefits as are children who attend nonreligious institutions.... When a Lutheran child trips or falls on an “unforgiving” surface, her head injury is no less serious than if she attended a nonreligious private school. 

Oral argument in the case will be next October, and the Supreme Court will likely decide it in late 2016 or early 2017.