Church prevails in a critical church-state separation case — now what?

 

The case Church Executive has been tracking at the Supreme Court for more than a year, Trinity Lutheran Church v Pauley, was finally decided on Monday, June 26, 2017 — the last day of the Court’s Term. The decision is a very important one for churches.

Long story short (indeed a long story, given the number and length of the multiple separate opinions), the Court held 7-2 — with the new Justice, Neil Gorsuch, voting with the majority — that a church cannot be excluded from a state grant program because of its identity as a church. Put differently, and except in rare circumstances (after the “strictest scrutiny”), when a government decides to offer funding or services or other benefits, it cannot discriminate against religious institutions, at least where the government benefit isn’t directly supporting worship or other religious activities.

Translation: the government can’t be hostile toward churches in administering the program, just like it can’t favor them. Hostility is a breach of the free exercise clause of the First Amendment; favoritism is a breach of the establishment clause.

For most of our readers, it’s a welcome relief to know that the Supreme Court thinks they are entitled to a level playing field.

In the coming weeks and months, Church Executive will examine this ruling and its effects on churches in more depth. For more background, here are some great resources:

A Supreme Court case to watch: Trinity Lutheran Church vs. Pauley 

A critical church-state separation case in the making

You can find the opinions themselves, as handed down on the June 26, here.

And, here is reporter and independent contractor Amy Howe’s flash analysis on ScotusBlog a few hours later.

For now, we invite you to take a short quiz.

Your insights will help us do the best possible job as we follow up on this important decision and enlist expert insights.

-The Editors

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