Supreme Court to hear ‘hostility’ case involving church playground

By Roger Drinnon

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Jan. 15 that it will hear a case concerning a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod church preschool to determine if a state’s barring of the church from a government aid program is unconstitutional.

While the LCMS is not a party to the litigation, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys are representing Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley, which came about after Trinity sought to participate in the 2012 Playground Scrap Tire Surface Material Grant Program to resurface its playgrounds with the safer, recycled tire products provided by the supposedly neutral program.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources later decided Trinity’s learning center was ineligible for the program — a determination purportedly made on an interpretation of a state-constitution provision prohibiting government aid to religion.

ADF is a non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith. Its attorneys contend the case is a question of whether states can exhibit “hostility to religion” by barring churches from state aid programs solely because they are religious organizations. They say such discrimination violates the Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses of the First Amendment.

“No state can define religious neutrality as treating religious organizations worse than everyone else,” said ADF senior counsel David Cortman in a press release.

“That isn’t neutrality; it’s a hostility to religion that violates the First Amendment. That’s the primary issue that the Supreme Court will address. In this case, the state should not have excluded this preschool from the recycled tire program simply because a church operates the school.”

“Children’s safety is just as important on church daycare playgrounds as it is on other daycare playgrounds,” added ADF senior counsel Erik Stanley. “Missouri and every state should understand that the U.S. Constitution prohibits religious hostility, which is what Missouri exhibited when it denied Trinity Lutheran’s scrap-tire grant application. This case has huge implications for state constitutional provisions across the nation that treat religious Americans and organizations as inferiors solely because of their religious identity.”

Last year, the LCMS participated in an amicus brief for the case. Amicus briefs provide pertinent information to the court regarding a case, alert the court to the ways in which the case may affect people outside of the two parties involved and help draw public and media attention to an important issue. The complete amicus brief is available for download at

“This case represents the tendency of some government agencies and certain advocacy groups to use expansive definitions of ‘the establishment clause,’ and state constitution versions of it, against people of faith,” said LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison. “We pray the Supreme Court will rule for the safety of children regardless of where their parents choose to send them for school.”

Worldwide KFUO broadcast:

Listen to the March 5, World Lutheran News: “The Trinity Lutheran Case”


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Roger Drinnon ( is manager of Editorial Services for LCMS Communications.

Posted Jan. 19, 2016


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2 Responses to Supreme Court to hear ‘hostility’ case involving church playground

  1. Clarence Berndt January 20, 2016 at 8:02 am #

    The same reasoning applies to financially supporting the education of children whose parents choose to send them to religious schools. If the country decides to financially support the education of children, it should support the education of all children, not just those who attend public schools.

  2. March 12, 2016 at 10:29 am #

    When the state or federal government sets standards for safety, are they also obligated to fund such mandates?

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