The Learning Center, a preschool and daycare that merged with the 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.
In this public program, leading attorneys will enact a moot court arguing the pros and cons of the case. Arguing for Trinity Lutheran will be Erik Stanley, 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.
The attorneys will argue that Trinity Lutheran is a pivotal case on religious freedom and will address the reasons for and against the decision to deny a religious preschool from access to state funds for the church to be reimbursed for rubberized surface material (tire scraps) for a playground.
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.”
To learn more about the case and to read the briefs filed by friends of the court, please visit the SCOTUSblog entry on Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia Inc. v. Comer.
Erik W. Stanley, Esq., serves with Alliance Defending Freedom as senior counsel and director of the Center for Christian Ministries. He oversees all litigation efforts to maintain the autonomy of the church and to ensure that its freedoms are protected under the First Amendment. Stanley received his Master of Divinity degree from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and his J.D. degree from Temple University School of Law, where he graduated cum laude in the top five percent of his class. He is a member of the bar in Florida, Kansas, Arizona, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Supreme Court and numerous federal district and appellate courts.
Daniel Mach, Esq., is director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. He leads religious liberty litigation, advocacy and public education efforts nationwide, and he often writes, teaches and speaks publicly on religious freedom issues. Mr. Mach currently serves as an adjunct professor of law at the George Washington University Law School, focusing on constitutional law and religious liberty. Prior to his work at the ACLU, Mr. Mach was a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Jenner & Block, where he specialized in First Amendment law.
Amy L. Howe is an independent contractor and reporter, and the previous editor, for SCOTUSblog, a blog devoted to coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court. She previously served as counsel in over two dozen merits cases at the Supreme Court and argued two cases there. She co-taught Supreme Court litigation at Stanford Law School and at Harvard Law School. She has also served as an adjunct professor at American University’s Washington College of Law and Vanderbilt Law School. Amy is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and holds a master’s degree in Arab Studies and a law degree from Georgetown University.
Kimberly Robinson has been on the leading edge of Bloomberg BNA’s Supreme Court coverage since joining the company from private practice. She has covered high-profile oral arguments and decisions, including Obergefell v. Hodges, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin and litigation involving the Affordable Care Act. Prior to joining Bloomberg BNA, Kimberly was an attorney at the global law firm Morrison & Foerster, LLP, where she was a member of the firm’s litigation group. Kimberly has a J.D. from Columbia University and a B.S. in Finance from Arizona State University.
Richard Wolf has been a USA TODAY reporter and editor for three decades. He has been the Supreme Court correspondent since 2012, and covered the White House during the Bush and Obama administrations and spent a decade reporting on Congress, as well as served five years as the newspaper’s congressional editor. Before joining USA TODAY, he was a Washington correspondent for Gannett News Service and a reporter and editor at Gannett newspapers in New York.