The US Supreme Court has ruled in favour of a Missouri church seeking state funding in a case that tests the boundaries of separation between church and state.
The case concerns Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri, which applied for a grant from the Department of Natural Resources to help renovate their preschool’s playground. The state rejected the church’s application, citing a strict policy against funding programmes controlled by a religious entity.
The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 against the state, writing that it may not deny the church a public benefit because of its religious status. In its policies against religious favouritism, the Court found, the state came dangerously close to preventing the free exercise of religion.
“This Court has repeatedly confirmed that denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority decision.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg dissented, arguing that the decision weakens the separation between church and state.
Justice Sotomayor claimed the ruling “dismantles a core protection for religious freedom” and ignores a history of separating state funding from religious causes.
“The Court today blinds itself to the outcome this history requires and leads us instead to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment,” she wrote.