Missouri Tried to Discriminate Against a Church for No Good Reason. How the Supreme Court Leveled the Playing Field.

Emilie Kao, The Daily Signal

In a 7-2 decision on Monday in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, the Supreme Court overturned a Missouri policy that discriminated against a church simply because of its religious character.

Citing a provision in its constitution that bars aid to religious organizations, Missouri had disqualified Trinity Lutheran Church’s preschool from a competition for recycled tires for playground resurfacing.

Even though the church’s application ranked fifth out of 44 applications on the merits, the preschool was categorically denied the right to compete and did not receive one of the 14 grants that the state ultimately awarded.

The Supreme Court held that Missouri’s policy violated the First Amendment. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts announced that “the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.”

The significance of the court’s decision goes far beyond the playground at Trinity Lutheran.

When the government announces competitive programs to the public, including to improve public health, safety, and security, it must allow religious communities to compete on the basis of merit for those benefits.