In a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that a Missouri church was wrongly denied state funds for playground resurfacing. The ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Comer may have broader implications for the school choice movement. Education Week explains,
The farther-reaching question underlying the case was whether state constitutional provisions that strictly bar government aid to religion violate religious freedom protections in the First Amendment. Those state-level measures are considered among the last legal barriers to expanding vouchers and tax credits for use at private religious schools.
Missouri is one of 39 states with such “Blaine amendments” in their state constitutions. The provisions are named for James G. Blaine, the 19th-century congressman who led an unsuccessful 1876 effort to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit public funding of religious schools at a time when the growing Roman Catholic population was pressing for government funding for parochial schools.
North Carolina’s constitution does not contain a Blaine amendment, but this ruling may aid efforts to overturn them in states that do.
In his majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts argued that the case was about playground resurfacing only. Justices Gorsuch and Thomas disagreed. A concurrence, written with enviable clarity by Justice Gorsuch, argues,
…I worry that some might mistakenly read it to suggest that only “playground resurfacing” cases, or only those with some association with children’s safety or health, or perhaps some other social good we find sufficiently worthy, are governed by the legal rules recounted in and faithfully applied by the Court’s opinion. Such a reading would be unreasonable for our cases are “governed by general principles, rather than ad hoc improvisations.” Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U. S. 1, 25 (2004) (Rehnquist, C. J., concurring in judgment). And the general principles here do not permit discrimination against religious exercise—whether on the playground or anywhere else.