ADF to argue against religious discrimination Wednesday at US Supreme Court
WHO: ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman; Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center Director Annette Kiehne; and ADF President, CEO, and General Counsel Michael Farris
WHAT: News conference after oral arguments in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer
WHEN: Wednesday, April 19, immediately following oral arguments (approximately 11:15 a.m. EDT)
WHERE: Outside U.S. Supreme Court, 1 First St. NE, Washington
WASHINGTON – Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel David Cortman will participate in a news conference Wednesday following his oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in what has been called “the term’s remaining marquee case,” Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer. A mult box will be available outside the court building to members of the media who wish to plug in audio cables. On Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. EDT, Cortman will participate in a media call to preview his arguments.
ADF is defending the long-held First Amendment principle that the government cannot exclude religious organizations from government programs that provide purely nonreligious benefits—in this case, a partial reimbursement grant for rubberized surface material from recycled tires that increases safety for children on a preschool playground that the entire community uses. The preschool’s director, Annette Kiehne, will provide her only public statement at the news conference, and ADF President, CEO, and General Counsel Michael Farris will also make comments.
“The government should treat children’s safety at religious schools the same as they do at nonreligious schools,” said Cortman. “The government isn’t being neutral when it treats religious organizations worse than everyone else. Equal treatment of a religious organization in a program that provides only secular benefits isn’t a government endorsement of religion, but unequal treatment that singles out a preschool for exclusion simply because a church runs the school is clearly unconstitutional.”
ADF attorneys represent the Missouri church that runs Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center, which the state excluded from a program that provides the partial reimbursement grants. Although the state highly ranked the center as qualified for the program (fifth out of 44 nonprofit applicants), it denied the center’s application solely because a church runs the preschool. Children in the community also use the playground after hours and on the weekends, and more than 90 percent of the children who attend the preschool do not attend the church.
The outcome of the case is critical because, under the state’s logic, the government could deny churches access to any nonreligious public benefit, such as fire services or water treatment.
In 2015, Cortman argued before the high court in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, a free speech case in which the justices ruled 9-0 in favor of a pastor and church that ADF represented. ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley, who has litigated the case since its inception, will also be present Wednesday at the Supreme Court. Mike Whitehead and Jonathan Whitehead, two of nearly 3,200 private attorneys allied with ADF, are also representing Trinity Lutheran Church in the case.
- Frequently asked questions: Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer
- Pronunciation guide: Kiehne (KEE’-nee)
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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