Jun 26, 2014

A federal appeals court should uphold a lower court ruling against a religious Missouri preschool denied a state grant, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says. Americans United, with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and its Missouri affiliate, filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Wednesday before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that a lower court correctly ruled that a preschool operated by Trinity Lutheran Church did not qualify for a state grant to purchase recycled tires to resurface its playground. As in many states, Missouri’s state constitution includes a provision prohibiting religious schools from receiving public funds. The preschool, which is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, has appealed that ruling. In a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the preschool, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty argued that Missouri’s prohibition against tax-funded aid to religious schools should be struck down on the grounds that it is rooted in anti-Catholic prejudice. Americans United rejects that argument.

“[T]he Becket Fund argues that Missouri’s no-aid provisions are so thoroughly infused with anti-Catholic prejudice that they must be struck down,” reads the brief. “But that claim is based on a distorted and simplified narrative that ignores much of Missouri’s actual history when it comes to public education and religious liberty.”

Elsewhere the brief reads, “In restricting the limited resources of its tire-mulch program to non-parochial schools, the State is merely obeying the requirements of the Missouri Constitution, and those dictates are plainly lawful under the U.S. Constitution.”

“Missouri’s constitution is very clear,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, Americans United’s associate legal director. “Religious schools are simply not entitled to the taxpayers’ money. That doesn’t contradict the First Amendment; it upholds it.”The brief was prepared by attorneys Heather L. Weaver and Daniel Mach of the national ACLU, with input from AU’s Luchenitser. The case is Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc., v. Pauley.