Matt Archbold graduated from Saint Joseph’s University in 1995. He is a former journalist who left the newspaper business to raise his five children. He writes for the Creative Minority Report.
It looks as though the highest court in the land will be deciding a case about recycled tires and a children's park which will have massive religious liberty ramifications for this country. To some, the little playground that is at the center of this case might be the most dangerous playground in the country. Not because children get hurt there. But because it might just strike a blow for religious liberty and equal protection for religious people in this country.
The Supreme Court is finally expected to hear Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer next week. It's a case that's been put on the back burner, presumably because the court was split down the middle with four justices on each side. Newly sworn in justice Neil Gorsuch may very well be the deciding opinion.
Here's the deal - Missouri has a program that grants money to non-profits for the resurfacing of playgrounds with recycled tires. Recycling is good, right? And playgrounds are awesome, right? But...and this is a big but...the state is refusing to give money to organizations that are religious by nature. Those opposed to allowing religious organizations to apply for the money say it's an establishment clause issue. The Establishment clause in the First Amendment of the US Constitution prohibits the establishment of religion by Congress. So what their fear is here is that a playground for kids might establish Lutheranism as the state religion. Now, does that sound like a legitimate fear here?
Or does this case sound a bit more like straight up discrimination against Christians. Here you have a program by the government which is open to ALL organizations except religious ones? Doesn't that sound like discrimination to you? I mean, it's not like Trinity Lutheran is building a religious playground. There won't be a "Climb on the arms of St. Paul" or the "95 theses slide" down to the Church doors. Nope. There might be a jungle gym, some swings, and a slide for children to play on. It will be for all children, not just Lutherans. All.
Think about it. Many states are coming down hard on Christians who don't want to bake a cake for a gay marriage or don't want to photograph a gay marriage ceremony. Many states says that position is anti-gay. However, the Christians often point out that they're not anti-gay and in fact they likely have many gay customers. They just don't want to take part in a specific ceremony that goes against their beliefs. So in short, it's not the customer themselves, it's what they're doing that the Christian doesn't want to take part in.
But in this case, it's actually not about a specific action the playground would be home to, it's actually about who Trinity Lutheran is. It's not an action they're taking. It's specifically about who they are. They're not getting the grant because they're Christian. That's called discrimination.
So Trinity Lutheran rightly contacted the Alliance Defending Freedom and sued, arguing that the free exercise of religion (which happens to be guaranteed under the First Amendment) as well as the right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment should make the funds available to them as well as other religious organizations. Up to now, federal courts ruled against the school but they keep climbing it up all the way to the highest court in the land. Where it has sat since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Gorsuch could be the fifth voice in favor of Trinity Lutheran. This, of course, would have a giant impact all across the country. Cases like this are exactly why liberals are all burned up about Merrick Garland, who was nominated by then President Obama, not getting onto the court. Cases like this are exactly why so many Christians voted for Donald Trump.
People have figured out that the courts are where the action is. The entire gay marriage debate finally taught many of us that lesson, when state after state voted to uphold traditional marriage but the courts simply overruled the people. We have finally figured out that congress is too cowardly most of the time to do anything of significance at all. The courts are where the rubber meets the road. And this case about old tires may just put us back on the road to religious liberty.