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Supreme Court of the United States

People of Faith Aren’t Second-Class Citizens

October 25, 2021

Governmental discrimination against people of faith sadly doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Whether the discrimination is coming from the federal, state, or local level, if you browse just a few of our case pages, you’ll notice that many government officials don’t hold people of faith in high esteem.

In some cases, officials have passed laws that could be used to target people and institutions of faith if they hold beliefs contrary to the government’s prescribed views on important and hotly debated issues such as marriage and sexuality.

You can see this happening in Denver, Colorado, where web designer Lorie Smith has challenged a law that would require her to design websites that promote messages violating her deeply held religious beliefs. Or take, for example, some provisions sneaked into the U.S. Senate’s infrastructure bill, which could prevent faith-based organizations from being eligible to receive grants simply because of their beliefs about marriage and sexuality.

But one ADF case out of Missouri shows us that it’s unconstitutional to treat people of faith as second-class citizens—and the Supreme Court has affirmed this principle repeatedly.

It all began when Missouri state lawmakers established the “Playground Scrap Tire Surface Materials Grant Program.” The program was designed to kill two birds with one stone: first, replace asphalt, rocks, and other rough playground materials with soft rubber to safeguard children from injuries, and second, to put recyclable materials to good use.

Many nonprofits applied for the program, and Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia was one of them. The church’s ministry includes a learning center for children, open to all children in the community ages two to kindergarten. In fact, 90 percent of the children attending the church’s learning center didn’t attend Trinity Lutheran. And children from neighborhoods surrounding the church used the playground after school and on the weekends. If Trinity Lutheran was accepted into the program, the grant would benefit the community and help protect local kids.

But when the church applied for the program, even scoring fifth out of 44 applicants competing for 14 grants, government officials denied the grant to Trinity Lutheran—because the playground was owned by a church.

State officials decided that the grant should only protect children who aren’t on church grounds, effectively banning the church from what should’ve been an impartial government benefit program. That’s blatantly unconstitutional. So with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, Trinity Lutheran filed a lawsuit that made its way to the Supreme Court. In 2017, the Court ruled in favor of Trinity Lutheran.

But here’s why this case is a big deal: Years after the Court’s ruling, religious freedom is still being protected based on the precedent of this case.

In 2020, for example, the Supreme Court relied on Trinity Lutheran to decide in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that Montana couldn’t dismantle a neutral tax-credit program just because it might benefit parents and children who choose religious private schools. And this year, a federal appellate court twice relied on Trinity Lutheran in stopping religious discrimination in Vermont’s education programs.

And that’s why Alliance Defending Freedom exists—to help ensure that all Americans are free to act according to their beliefs and conscience without government pushback. People of faith should never be treated like second class citizens – in America, or anywhere.


Alliance Defending Freedom

Alliance Defending Freedom

Non-profit organization

Alliance Defending Freedom advocates for your right to freely live out your faith


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