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Supreme Court of the United States

Trinity Lutheran Goes to the Supreme Court

By Chris Potts posted on:
October 17, 2017

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys presented arguments today before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of our client Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri.

This case has been called the “most anticipated case in the April sitting.” And it should concern all Americans.

Here’s why.

At its root, this case asks: Can the government deny neutral benefits to religious organizations and people of faith simply because of their religious affiliations?

Several years ago, Missouri initiated a scrap tire program that allows the state to safely and easily dispense with the tens of thousands of old tires it collects every year. The tires are an environmentalist’s nightmare, taking up acres of landfill while awaiting the stray spark that could set off billowing plumes of poisonous smoke. The solution: convert them into a rubber ground cover perfectly tailored to children’s playgrounds.

Every parent knows what happens when unprotected knees, elbows, and heads hit the hard ground at the bottom of a playground slide or swing set: howls and tears at best – and sometimes, serious injuries. A while back, though, someone realized that covering that ground with a thick carpet of rubber allowed for much softer, safer landings – and suddenly, rubber ground cover became popular in parks, children’s hospitals, and schools all over the country.

Missouri’s scrap tire program seemed a natural win-win for all involved: the state turns its tires into something schools want, and school administrators don’t have to pay for the expensive transformation process by which tires become playground rugs. Instead, they apply for a grant that will reimburse them for investing in the rubber ground cover.

The good people of Trinity Lutheran eagerly joined in the competition for Missouri’s scrap tire grant. The children attending their preschool are as lively and fragile as those at other education centers, and Trinity’s school opens its popular playground area to families throughout the surrounding neighborhood, seven days a week. 

Trinity’s administrators went through all the right motions, filling out the mountain of state paperwork, clarifying the myriad details, and meeting all the appropriate deadlines. Out of 44 competing schools, they qualified fifth – easily good enough to receive a reimbursement grant.

But they didn’t get a grant—it got a denial letter saying that the Missouri Constitution prohibited the state from giving “aid” to a church.  Even though Trinity’s school was clearly qualified, the state denied it simply because it was owned by a church.

Trinity contacted Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys, who raised a legal point that worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court: do religious organizations have the right to participate equally in government programs without being discriminated against solely because of their religious status? If not, where does that lead? Should city police, firefighters, and paramedics stop responding to emergencies on church property out of a misguided desire to avoid “aiding” religion?

It’s a question with far-reaching implications for government officials all over America … and Trinity Lutheran is where the rubber meets the playground.


Help Defend Religious Organizations Against Government Discrimination


ADF is committed to defending religious organizations like Trinity Lutheran that are brave enough to stand up to government discrimination against people of faith.  Please prayerfully consider joining us in this important effort.

Chris Potts

Chris Potts

Senior Writer

Chris Potts is a senior writer for Alliance Defending Freedom, sharing stories of Christians who stand up for the sanctity of life, marriage and family, and religious freedom.

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