Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America — the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization — applauded today’s 7-2 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting the exclusion of a church from a state funding program solely because of the church’s status as a religious institution.
The case, Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, involved a Missouri grant program which funds the resurfacing of children’s playgrounds to make them safer for the children. The state of Missouri denied the grant to the church solely because of the church’s religious status, even though the church met the qualification criteria which had nothing to do with religion. Missouri’s rejection of the church was upheld by lower courts but reversed today by a 7-2 majority in an opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts (and from which only Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg dissented).
The chief justice wrote that Missouri’s exclusion of the church from the grant program violated the First Amendment’s clause guaranteeing the “free exercise of religion.” The exclusion put the church “to a choice: it may participate in an otherwise available benefit program or remain a religious institution… when the State conditions a benefit this way the State has punished the free exercise of religion…” and this is constitutionally unacceptable, the chief justice wrote.
The Orthodox Union Advocacy Center participated in this important case by filing a “friend of the court” brief – which was cited by Justice Samuel Alito at the case’s oral argument session in April.
Nathan Diament, executive director of Washington, D.C.’s Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, co-authored the legal brief. He stated:
“Today’s 7-2 ruling by the Supreme Court puts state aid to synagogues (and other houses of worship) and parochial schools for security and safety measures on an explicit and solid constitutional footing. The chief justice’s majority opinion makes it clear that a state may not exclude an institution from a neutral government benefit program because of the institution’s religious status. And Justice Breyer, in his concurring opinion, wrote that the state may not cut off a religious institution from ‘a general program designed to secure or to improve the health and safety of children’ without running afoul of the Constitution.”
Diament added: “We are proud of OU Advocacy’s success at the federal and state levels in working with policymakers to create government grant programs that assist houses of worship and parochial schools with their security and safety costs. These programs are essential for the welfare of children (and adults) and are affirmed in today’s ruling.”
Mark Bane, president of the Orthodox Union, stated:
“We are proud of the role that OU Advocacy has played in creating the various state aid programs and its role in today’s high court ruling affirming their constitutionality. We expect the ruling to assist us in expanding the number and type of programs which aid faith communities with their safety costs.”