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State officials unlawfully exclude Lutheran learning center from playground safety program

Related Case: Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley

WASHINGTON – Alliance Defending Freedom filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday on behalf of a Missouri church pre-school and daycare center denied access to a state program that provides recycled tires to surface children’s playgrounds. Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit upheld a federal court’s decision that ruled the state was justified in denying the center because a church runs it.
 
“Children’s safety is just as important on church daycare playgrounds as at other daycare playgrounds,” said ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley. “The state cannot single out this preschool for exclusion from the program because it is operated by a church. The U.S. Constitution prohibits this type of hostility to religion.”
 
Trinity Lutheran Church Learning Center in Columbia sought to participate in the 2012 Playground Scrap Tire Surface Material Grant Program. The center wished to remove and replace a large portion of the pea gravel surfacing on its playgrounds with a safer, recycled, pour-in-place, rubberized product. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources disqualified the learning center solely because it is operated by Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, Inc., pointing to a section of the state constitution that prohibits government aid to religion.
 
“Seeking to protect children from harm while they play tag and go down the slide is about as far from an ‘essentially religious endeavor’ as one can get,” explains the ADF petition. “The DNR’s religious exclusion sends a message that Trinity’s children are less worthy of protection simply because they play on a playground owned by a church. This is not a mild disapproval of religion.”
 
“Programs, such as the one in this case, that evenhandedly allocate aid to a broad class of recipients without regard to religion, generally do not violate the Establishment Clause; indeed this Court has held that singling out religious entities for exclusion is unconstitutional,” the petition continues.
 
ADF-allied attorneys Joel Oster and Michael K. Whitehead are serving as local counsel in the case,Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley.
 
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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