Fighting To Protect Freedom Of Conscience And Freedom For Faith Communities
Religious freedom protects our right to believe—or not—free from government interference. Indeed, religion and belief are stronger without government support. But the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer threatens to disturb the healthy distance between religion and government.
On June 26, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Trinity Lutheran Church can’t be excluded from a taxpayer-funded grant program that makes playgrounds safer by paying to resurface them with recycled tires. In a 7-2 opinion, the justices held that a church could not be excluded from this general government benefit simply because it is a church.
But while this is a troubling opinion that blurs the lines of church-state separation, the Court took care to limit its scope, saying that “[t]his case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.”
Americans United, along with other religious and civil-rights organizations, had submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in this case. AU will continue to fight to ensure that the Supreme Court’s Trinity Lutheran decision is properly interpreted as a narrow exception to the First Amendment’s requirement that taxpayer dollars not go to churches to fund religious activities.
Freedom Of Conscience
The core of our Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom is the principle that religion must be freely chosen. Freedom of conscience means that you can decide which religion to follow—if any—without government coercion or interference. It also means the government can’t tax you and then use those funds to pay for religious ministries or the upkeep of any house of worship, because we each get to decide for ourselves whether and how our money goes to support religion.
Protecting Faith Communities From Government Discrimination
The government shouldn’t have the right to pick and choose which faith communities are worthy of government support. Discrimination is the inevitable result, and minority faiths and smaller, less popular houses of worship are the most likely to be left out. This is why most state constitutions ensure the government does not fund houses of worship.
Freedom For Faith Communities
The independence of faith communities allows them to pursue their own ministries and speak out about the issues of the day to policymakers without interference. If houses of worship become dependent on government money, they also may lose this freedom.
Op-Ed By The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, AU's Executive Director: Supreme Court imposes church tax
Op-Ed By The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, AU's Executive Director: In America, Religious Groups Should Pay Their Own Way
Blog By Bill Mefford, AU's Faith Organizer: Authentic Faith Doesn’t Need Taxpayer ‘Help’
Op-Ed By The Rev. Rick McClatchy, Texas: Religious Freedom At Risk Before The Supreme Court
Op-Ed By Sister Jennifer Harmon, O.S.B., Oklahoma: State Funding Isn't Worth Its Price To Churches
AU Attorneys Carmen Green, Bradley Girard and Andrew Nellis explain the Supreme Court's decision in the Trinity Lutheran case, as well as two other SCOTUS cases with religious freedom implications, in this Facebook Live video:
- AU Legal Director Richard B. Katskee On SCOTUSblog
Our April 18 Letter Asking The Supreme Court To Dismiss The Case
Our Amicus Brief To The Supreme Court
Americans United's Summary Of The Case