Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens took action Thursday to reverse what he called “a prejudiced policy” that excluded faith-based organizations from receiving certain government grants — a policy at the heart of a crucial upcoming Supreme Court case.
“When it was brought to my attention that government bureaucrats were under orders to deny grants to people of faith, we said, ‘we’re going to fix it, and we’re going to get it done right away,” Greitens, a former Navy SEAL elected governor this past fall, said when speaking with The Daily Caller on Friday.
The reversed policy is at the heart of the Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer case, where the Supreme Court will decide whether state governments can exclude faith-based organizations from neutral, secular aid programs. The case was spurred by the Missouri Department of Natural Resource’s discrimination against faith-based organizations when awarding grants to help nonprofits buy rubber playground surfaces. The court will begin hearing oral arguments next week. (RELATED: Gorsuch Will Have Immediate Effect On Gun Rights, Religious Liberty Cases)
“We came into office to fight for all Missourians, and that includes people of faith who have been under attack,” Greitens said, adding: “We’re obviously aware of what’s going on with the Supreme Court case, and what this does is make sure that that’s never going to happen again, never going to happen in the state of Missouri.”
The ACLU of Missouri came out hard against the new policy on Thursday, saying: “Gov. Greitens’ political decision to blur the lines between church and state is dangerous and directly goes against what our nation’s founders intended: to protect religious freedom by keeping it separate from government.”
“Now, why the ACLU wants to continue a prejudiced policy that excludes, for example, us being able to make playgrounds safe for children at a school that’s owned by a church — why the ACLU is opposed to us doing that, I just can’t understand,” Greitens said. “To me this is just common sense, we should be welcoming people of faith into the public sphere.”
Greitens said he does not expect the new policy to have an impact on the Trinity Lutheran case.
“We don’t expect this to affect the Trinity Lutheran case before the Supreme Court just because that case involves a 2012 decision that came many years before we took office,” Greitens said. “What our action does, is it just ensures that future groups will not be discriminated against based on religion.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious liberty law firm representing Trinity Lutheran, agrees.
Greitens’ “new directive doesn’t resolve the discriminatory actions that were taken against Trinity Lutheran’s preschool and the attempt to deny Trinity Lutheran its constitutionally protected freedom to participate equally in society,” ADF senior counsel David Cortman said in a statement. “As people across the nation celebrate Holy Week and Passover, Alliance Defending Freedom looks forward to advocating for the equal treatment of all Americans of faith at the Supreme Court next week.”
Although not popular with the ACLU, Greitens’ decision to reverse the Missouri DNR policy was widely praised by religious organizations within Missouri.
Dr. John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, said that “Governor Greitens ‘gets’ what our Founding Fathers understood: that faith is an integral part of our national identity. There are common places where people of faith and state can work together to accomplish the common good such as safety, education, rehab, foster/orphan care, and other contexts where qualified religious organizations meet and, in most cases, exceed the state requirements.”
Mike Hoey, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference released a statement saying, “We applaud the Governor’s move to make sure these non-sectarian DNR grants and programs are available to all children without religious discrimination. The education and safety of our children should be considered foremost in these grant programs, not the type of school the children attend.”
This article has been updated to include ADF’s statement.