The United States Supreme Court issued an important ruling in a religious liberty case and agreed to hear another major case next term, which begins the first Monday in October.
Governments Can’t Discriminate Against Churches Merely Because They are Churches
In a 7-2 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court today said the government cannot discriminate against religious organizations by excluding them from government programs solely because of the organization’s religious beliefs unless there is a compelling governmental interest.
The case involved a preschool at Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri. The church applied for and was denied a state grant for rubberized playground surface material, which was offered by the state for the purpose of creating safer playgrounds. The state admitted that it denied the church’s application solely because it was a church.
“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,” said the Court in its opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts.
School choice implications?
This ruling perhaps opens the door to broader school choice programs, but that is not clear yet. Various observers share conflicting views on that question, but all agree that future cases will help answer it.
One case that could prove to be a critical test case involves a Colorado court decision, based on a clause in the Colorado constitution which is similar to a provision in the Mississippi constitution, that prohibits a local voucher program from being used at religious schools. That Colorado case is now at the U.S. Supreme Court, but justices have not indicated whether they will take it up. Today’s decision in the Trinity Lutheran case may increase the chances of its being considered by the Supreme Court next year.
Can Governments Discriminate Against Business Owners Who Believe in Traditional Marriage?
In a case that will have implications for Mississippi’s HB 1523, the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” the U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it will take up the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, also out of Colorado, in their next term, which begins the first Monday in October and runs through June of next year. This case is about whether the government can compel people of faith to create expressions that go against their sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage.
Jack Phillips, who owns the bakery Masterpiece Cakeshop, had a complaint filed against him for not baking a cake for a same-sex wedding. Phillips had provided countless services to other LGBT customers, but simply did not want to participate in a religious ceremony – a wedding – that violated his conscientious beliefs about marriage.
This is the first time the U.S. Supreme Court will consider a case that will decide the conflict between the Constitutional freedom of religion and the newly created right to same-sex marriage. Contrary to some news reports, there is no reason to think the case will reopen the overall question of whether same-sex marriage is a constitutionally protected right.