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Multiple groups voice support for preschoolers at US Supreme Court

Briefs: Govt shouldn’t consider children unworthy of protection for playing on church-run playgrounds

WASHINGTON – Multiple parties, including 19 states and 34 members of Congress, filed friend-of-the-court briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court this week in support of ensuring that children aren’t denied the benefit of a playground safety program simply because a church owns the playground.

The briefs support a church-run preschool and daycare center that the state of Missouri said is qualified for the program, which provides reimbursement for recycled tire products to surface children’s playgrounds, but then disqualified from the program anyway only because the church is religious. Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the church, filed its opening brief with the Supreme Court on April 14.

“A government isn’t being neutral toward religion when it treats religious organizations worse than everyone else,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “The state admits that the church’s daycare center fully qualified for the program and that the only reason that its preschoolers can’t benefit from the playground safety program is that the church is religious. To say that the religious and nonreligious children who play on this playground are somehow less worthy of this program than children who play on other playgrounds clearly makes no sense.”

The case, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley, addresses the question of whether states can exhibit hostility to religion by prohibiting churches and church-run organizations from participating in government programs solely because the groups have a religious identity.

“Children’s safety is just as important on church preschool playgrounds as it is on other preschool playgrounds,” added ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley. “Nothing exists in the Constitution or the First Amendment that prohibits a church or any other organization from participating in a religiously neutral government program. The state even admits to this but claims a state constitutional provision stands in the way. The answer is that no state constitutional provision can exhibit hostility to religion in violation of the U.S. Constitution.”

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 center solely because Trinity Lutheran Church operates it. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit narrowly upheld a district court’s decision that ruled in favor of the state.

In addition to the states and members of Congress filing briefs in support of Trinity Lutheran, other parties include legal and policy experts, educational groups, and a wide spectrum of religious organizations.

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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David Cortman
David A. Cortman
Senior Counsel, Vice President of U.S. Litigation
David A. Cortman serves as senior counsel and vice president of U.S. litigation with Alliance Defending Freedom.