The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a preschool in Missouri has the right to the same federal aid as public schools, despite their religious standards.
Preschool is quite common in the United States, as three-fourths of young children across the country attend some type of preschool program. These programs and schools differ widely and are usually funded by taxpayer dollars.
Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri runs a public preschool and has recently sued their state over access to taxpayer funds for new and improved facilities. Back in 2012, Missouri launched a new campaign that encouraged schools to use recycled tires in their playgrounds and would offer state funding as a way to make playtime safer for young children. However, when Trinity Lutheran applied for this state grant, they were denied.
The state of Missouri claimed that Trinity Lutheran Church could not receive funding simply because they were a church — and they cited the Missouri State Constitution which forbids churches from getting any type of state funding as their reasoning for the decision.
Trinity Lutheran wasn’t happy with this decision and decided to bring their case to the Supreme Court. Fortunately for them, the Supreme Court ruled seven to two that the Missouri state policy was unconstitutional and that Trinity Lutheran has a right to state grants as they will be providing materials for a school, not a church.
Chief Justice John Roberts explained in his report for the majority vote that by denying Trinity Lutheran funding, this would go against the freedom of religion clause in our country’s First Amendment. BBC reports Robert’s statement:
“The consequence is, in all likelihood, a few extra scraped knees. But 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.”
However, in an attempt to limit the Supreme Court’s decision, Roberts has added a footnote clause into the official decree citing that this ruling only goes for matters associated to the playground of the school. He is quick to add that the Supreme Court will not allow any Missouri state money to go towards religious activities within the church itself.