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Supreme Court rules churches eligible for public funds; how justices voted

Court watchers were concerned an affirmation for Missouri’s decision would have devastating and reaching implications, like whether state funding would be withheld for other charitable institutions such as soup kitchens and foodbanks that are often run by churches or organizations with religious affiliation. The outcome is, in all likelihood, a few extra scraped knees. The money comes from a fee paid by anyone who buys a new tire.The program ranked the church’s application fifth out of 44 applications it received, but despite qualifying, it did not grant money from the state treasury.Nonetheless, Missouri and the church both urged the justices to decide the case because of the important issues involved and because the governor’s action was not irreversible.John McGinnis, a professor of constitutional law at Northwestern University, said the church made its case “by appealing to a very general principal under the bill of rights”. “I agree this violates the First Amendment and I am pleased to join almost all of the Court’s opinion”.Sotomayor, who read a portion of her dissent from the bench, said the ruling “slights both our precedents and our history, and its reasoning weakens this country’s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both”.Richard Katskee, the legal director at the organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said that while the ruling does not strike down existing constitutional provisions against governments funding religion, “it probably will encourage more legal challenges over those provisions”.The case, one of the most closely watched of the term, pitted two parts of the First Amendment against one another – freedom of religion and separation of church and state. The lawsuit was dismissed by the district court, which said the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from outlawing or restricting the exercise of a religious practice but does not prohibit withholding an affirmative benefit on account of religion.Religious freedom advocates following the case applauded the ruling, which they say will pave the way for all children to access public safety benefits. Roberts appeared to attempt to limit the holding to the facts of this case in footnote 3, but Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch did not join as to that note. But McGinnis said the state can put safeguards in place to prevent discrimination on religious grounds.Severino called today’s decision “a strong decision in defense of religious freedom, reminding states that they can not exclude groups or individuals from public benefits simply due to their religion”.Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, said the principle of “religious neutrality” applies “whether the government is enabling schools to resurface their playgrounds or empowering parents to direct their children’s education”.The ruling prompted praise from conservative groups and politicians.The change opened the door for the state to provide indirect benefits to private and parochial schools.