On April 7, the Newseum will host “Tire Scraps and Religious Liberty,” a free public event exploring an upcoming Supreme Court case involving the religious liberty principles of the First Amendment. The event is co-sponsored by the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute.
The Learning Center, a preschool and daycare that is operated by Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, was denied a grant from the state of Missouri that would have provided public funds to the center to purchase recycled tires to resurface their playground. The state’s rationale for denying this grant was based on the Missouri Constitution, which states that “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, section or denomination of religion.”
In May 2015, the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the state’s decision to deny the grant application to Trinity Church. On April 19, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about this case asking whether the state’s prevention of Trinity Church to have access to public funds through an otherwise general neutral funding program violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
At its core, the Trinity Lutheran playground case strikes at the heart of American jurisprudence, asking “What is fair play in a pluralistic society?” The case has piqued the interest of many legal scholars, academics, SCOTUS reporters, commentators and the general public. Last fall, Adam Liptak of The New York Times called Trinity Lutheran “the most interesting case of the term.” Harvard law professor Noah Feldman asserted, “Regardless of the outcome, the case will be one for the history books.”
In the moot court to be held on April 7 at the Newseum, Attorney Erik Stanley, member of the Trinity Lutheran legal team, will argue for Trinity Lutheran. Mr. Stanley is senior counsel and director of the Center for Christian Ministries for the Alliance Defending Freedom. Arguing for the state will be Daniel Mach, director of the Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief at the American Civil Liberties Union. USA Today’s Richard Wolf, Bloomberg BNA’s Kimberly Robinson and SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe will serve as the moot court justices.
To learn more about the case and to read the briefs filed by friends of the court, please see the SCOTUSblog entry on Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia Inc. v. Comer.