In Ruling Over a Religious School Playground, Supreme Court Has Started To Tear Down The Wall Separating Church and State
The basic question was minor. The implications are huge. The bottom line is that supporters of using public tax dollars to support private religious schools got some major support from the Supreme Court today.
A church in Missouri wanted a shot at some public monies to resurface a playground. The state said no. The trip up through the levels of US courts began. Five years later, here we are.
What matters in a case like this is the reasoning. Here's the oft-quoted excerpt from the majority: “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… and cannot stand,” wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
As Bloomberg notes, this is a big deal: "It’s the first time the court has used the free exercise clause of the Constitution to require a direct transfer of taxpayers’ money to a church. In other words, the free exercise clause has trumped the establishment clause, which was created precisely to stop government money going to religious purposes. Somewhere, James Madison is shaking his head in disbelief."
A portion of the majority made an attempt to mitigate the effects of the decision with a small footnote: "This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination." (the full opinion is here).