Missouri Denies Preschoolers Playground Upgrade Because Their School Is Owned By A Church

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Casey Harper Contributor
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A class of preschoolers in Missouri was denied a taxpayer-funded upgrade to their school playground, and a lawsuit before the courts this week claims it was because of religious discrimination.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., owns a Christian preschool. The school applied to participate in a state program that gives recycled tires as a soft and safe bedding for school playgrounds.

The state denied their request, saying government funds could not aid a religious organization. The church, though, says the state has allowed 15 other religious day cares to participate and that they are victims of discrimination.

The church filed suit in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley, a case that appeared before the U.S. Court of Appeals this week.

The 2012 Playground Scrap Tire Surface Material Grant Program gives recycled tires to playgrounds as a safe, cheap way to help out schools. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources denied the school’s request to participate in the program on the grounds that the government could not fund religion.

“The Department did not award Trinity the grant because Article I, § 7 of the Missouri Constitution prohibits the use of public funds in aid of a religious institution,” Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said in a court brief.

The Missouri Constitution states:

“No money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion….and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.”

A judge dismissed the church’s case in September of 2013. In February 2014 ADF appealed the ruling which was heard this week.

“The oral arguments went well and the state constitutional protections against religious discrimination should prevail,” Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for ADF, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The court seemed receptive to our arguments, and we are hopeful that we will see a positive decision. The children at this preschool are no less worthy than the other children of the state benefiting from the safety provided by this program.“

The court has not yet made a ruling.

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Casey Harper