It was a less flashy decision than the Supreme Court decision to allow parts of President Trump’s travel restriction to stand. But the decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer was important too, as a victory for religious liberty.
Let’s briefly review the case.
In 2012, Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, MO, applied to the Playground Scrap Tire Surface Material Grant Program. The state of Missouri sponsored the program for nonprofits to use scrap tires to cover playgrounds, and the church was invited to participate. Consequently, the church thought its daycare might benefit from having a safer surface for its little charges to play on.
Trinity ranked near the top of the nonprofits that had applied for the grant. However, their hopes for a safer playground came crashing down, thanks to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. They determined that the preschool was ineligible. Why? Because a church operated the preschool. Only the knees of secular children would be eligible for protection, apparently.
The state’s basis for discrimination stems from a bit of nasty religious bigotry embedded in its state constitution. That constitution relies on the wording of the Blaine Amendment, which was named for Rep. James Blaine. Blaine was the 1884 Republican presidential candidate, the speaker of the House, and a notorious anti-Catholic. Bitterly opposed to Catholic immigrants and the parochial schools they founded, Blaine tried in 1875 to amend the U.S. Constitution with a stipulation that no state money could go to schools “under the control of any religious sect.” The constitutional amendment failed, of course, but 37 states decided to adopt it. One of them was Missouri, which enacted its state constitution in — surprise! 1875.