June 26, 2017
Carson City, NV – Today, the United States Supreme Court ruled for Trinity Lutheran Church in a dispute with the State of Missouri. Nevada Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt and his staff led a coalition of 18 state attorneys general in writing and filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court that supported Trinity Lutheran’s claim of religious discrimination. The brief challenged the exclusion of a preschool-daycare from a state-authorized environmental-safety program in Missouri simply because of its religious status. The Court held 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…and cannot stand.” The Court clarified, as Nevada had asked it to do, that there are reasonable limits to the ability of a government to exclude religious organizations from state programs.
“I am glad that the Supreme Court has declared resoundingly that there is a commonsense limit to the government’s ability to exclude religious organizations from otherwise generally available public-benefit programs,” said Laxalt. “The public program that the church and the children sought to participate in had nothing to do with endorsing or furthering any particular religious belief. The Court powerfully reinforced that such discrimination against the religious, completely untethered from any legitimate First Amendment concern, is in fact ‘odious to our Constitution’ and not allowed.”
As background, Trinity Lutheran Church has a playground used by its daycare, preschool, and local neighborhood children. The church applied for a financial grant from a Missouri program that reimburses institutions that resurface their playgrounds with recycled scrap tires. The program, designed to protect children and reduce tire landfills, declared the daycare and preschool categorically ineligible solely because they are part of a church. The brief explained that similar to a public school, city park, or secular daycare, Trinity Lutheran’s religious status was irrelevant to the program’s goal of protecting children and mitigating the environmental harm of scrap tires. Accordingly, Missouri had no lawful reason to reject the church from the program.
Nevada was joined by the following states in the filing of this brief: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.