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Supreme Court weighs state aid to church programs
April 19, 2017
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court seemed ready to chip away at the wall separating church and state on Wednesday, with several justices suggesting that states must sometimes provide aid to religious groups. The case concerned a Missouri program to make playgrounds safer that excluded ones affiliated with churches, but it had implications for all kinds of government aid to religious institutions. Comer, No. 15-577, is whether officials in Missouri were entitled to reject an application from a Lutheran church for a grant to use recycled tires to resurface a playground. Answering that question required the justices to consider doctrinal crosscurrents, including what earlier cases have called “the play in the joints” between two clauses of the First Amendment, which bar government establishment of religion and guarantee its free exercise. The Missouri Constitution bars spending public money “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church,” and the state Supreme Court has called for “a very high wall between church and state.” Thirty-nine states have constitutional provisions limiting state aid to religious groups, Sotomayor noted. On the federal appeals court in Denver, he was receptive to claims from religious groups, and he was thought to be a likely vote for the church in Wednesday’s case.