Dec. 2, 2021
The Supreme Court will hear arguments next week over whether state government funding programs can discriminate against religion—the third time the court has taken up the issue in the past five years. It has already prohibited excluding religious institutions simply because they are religious institutions, but it equivocated on whether governments can deny funding that would be used for religious purposes. The justices should now make clear that all forms of religious exclusion in government funding are unacceptable.
Trinity Lutheran v. Comer (2017) concerned a church-run school that sought a grant from Missouri for playground renovations. Although the school was eligible on the basis of secular criteria, its application was denied because it was a religious institution. A 7-2 majority held that denying a church funds “simply because of what it is” violated the First Amendment. But the court intimated that it may be permissible for a state to deny funding solely based on what the funds are used for. A state that provides funds to buy books but explicitly bans Bible purchases could be acting constitutionally.