ADL to Supreme Court: States Can Provide Broader Church-State Separation

New York, NY, July 5, 2016 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today joined a friend-of-the court brief to the U.S. Supreme Court defending a Missouri constitutional provision that provides broader separation of church and state than the U.S. Constitution.

In the case titled, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Parker, the State denied direct grants to houses of worship under this provision.

“The petitioner is seeking an unprecedented ruling from the Court that would upend the current legal standard, which protects our nation’s houses of worship from government intrusion and oversight, and risks religious freedom in America,” said Ian Scharfman, Chair of ADL’s Religious Freedom Task Force. “A decision adopting its argument that Missouri is required to provide taxpayer dollars to houses of worship would jeopardize special legal protections for houses of worship, which safeguard their autonomy.”

Missouri’s constitution prohibits direct or indirect public aid to houses of worship and other religious institutions. Based on this provision, the State excludes houses of worship, including Trinity Lutheran, from a program that provides direct grants to pay for outdoor resurfacing materials.

“The Supreme Court upheld a similar state constitutional provision in the past and it should do the same in this case,” said Deborah M. Lauter, ADL Senior Vice President of Policy and Programs. “Many states provide more comprehensive religious freedom protections and church-state separation than the U.S. Constitution – and for good reason. These provisions protect taxpayers from being compelled to fund houses of worship. Moreover, states should not be in the religiously divisive business of choosing who, from among diverse houses of worship, should receive public dollars. Those funding decisions and the accompanying thorny issue of government monitoring to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used for religious purposes would most certainly lead to constitutional challenges.”

ADL joined with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, other civil rights and religious organizations on the brief, which argues that the First Amendment’s free exercise clause does not require Trinity Lutheran or any other house of worship to be included in the direct grant program. Furthermore, the state constitutional provision at issue is permitted by the “play in the joints” between the U.S. Constitution’s religion clauses and is justified by the experience of the framers of the Constitution, who were deeply concerned about public funding of houses of worship.