Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Pauley is a pending case in the Supreme Court from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. This will be the first case that the new Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch will rule on as the argument is set for April 19.
In 2012, Trinity Lutheran Church applied for a grant for the church’s preschool and daycare facility, “The Learning Center,” through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The Learning Center has open admissions, but its daily program includes religious teachings. Upon application, the church was informed that it could not be extended the grant because giving direct financial assistance to a church/religious organization is prohibited by Article I of the Missouri Constitution.
The Missouri Constitution reads,
“That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, as such; and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.”
Trinity Church filed to sue the director of natural resources, Sara Pauley, saying the denial of the grant violated First Amendment religious clauses and freedom of speech, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. The federal district court dismissed the case saying they didn’t state a claim. In response to this, Trinity made new allegations that the state had given similar financial assistance to other religious organizations. The district court denied the claims, as did the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Circuit Court stated that there is no precedent indicating that Trinity should have received the grant. Trinity Lutheran has since appealed the Supreme Court.
The Lemon Test was created as a result of Lemon v. Kurtman in 1971. Pennsylvania and Rhode Island states laws allowed for the direct financial aid of teacher salaries and educational materials to religious schools. It was held that both laws violated the establishment clause. The Lemon Test says that: 1) a law must have a secular legislative purpose; 2) a law must neither advance nor constrain religion; 3) a law can’t create and extreme entanglement between government and religion.
Using this test I would say that Article I on the Missouri Constitution passes the Lemon Test. The law does have a secular legislative purpose, which is to provide grants to secular institutions. It prohibits the advancement of any religion by not allowing any financial aid to be given to religious organizations. Additionally, the law only enhances the divide between government and religion.
It will be interesting to see how the court rules on this case. While the preschool welcomes all students regardless of religion, the preschool/daycare is owned by Trinity Lutheran Church and it provides little, but some form of Christian teaching. If the state were to provide the grant, it would be sponsoring a Christian establishment, however, the school is not seeking financial assistance for religious educational materials. They were seeking the grant to replace the playground area at the school. This use of the funds has nothing to do with facilitating religious education. The decision will also be an indicator of how Gorsuch will swing the court and how the new court will rule on religion cases.