Catholics And Protestants Unite To Defend Kids From Playground Discrimination

Casey Harper | Contributor

The Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Missouri Catholic Conference have teamed up with a Christian preschool that claims the state is discriminating against their kids. The case, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley, is expected to go before the Supreme Court in the fall.

The Catholic groups filed a brief siding with Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri, which owns a Christian preschool. The school applied to participate in a state program that gives recycled tires as a soft bedding for school playgrounds.

But the state did not grant their request on the grounds that government funds could not be given to 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 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. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said in a court brief that the state’s constitution prohibits public money from going to religious groups. 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, the group appealed the ruling. Now, the church has the backing of the Catholic groups, which filed a joint brief along with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Salvation Army National Corporation, National Catholic Educational Association and the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America, USCCB reports.

From the brief:

Official discrimination based on religion is no less invidious or stigmatizing than discrimination based on other protected traits. It sends a message that religious people and their institutions are second-class citizens who deserve special disabilities and are not entitled to participate on equal terms in government programs.

Allowing illusory Establishment Clause concerns to trump the prohibition on religious discrimination would invite state officials to invoke those concerns as a pretext for penalizing religious groups whose beliefs or practices diverge from government-prescribed orthodoxy.

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