Catholic bishops joint those speaking up for a Lutheran playground at the Supreme Court

(Photo: © Peter Kenny / Ecumenical News)Children frolic in front of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on Aug. 7, 2015

Catholics and Protestants have teamed up to fight the state of Missouri which is refusing to subside the resurfacing of a Lutheran school playground with the Christians group saying what the authorities are doing is discriminatory on religious grounds.

A schoolchildren's playground may not seem much to fight about, but the case is seen as part of a struggle for people of faith to fight against what they see as a whittling away of their religious rights.

The case, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley, is expected to go before the Supreme Court in the autumn, The Daily Caller reported.

The denial of the playground resurfacing grant to the Lutheran school empowers religious discrimination, not constitutional principles, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a Supreme Court brief, Catholic News Agency reported.

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"Missouri's religious discrimination not only contravenes the First Amendment, it is profoundly demeaning to people of faith," the U.S. bishops said in their April 21 friend-of-the-court brief.

The brief backs Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. in its suit against the Missouri government.

At the same hearing the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy agency argued that churches should be allowed to participate in government programs on equal footing with other civic organizations.

The SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission filed its brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case that observers say could radically alter the way courts have traditionally understood the separation of Church and State, Baptist News Global reported.

The Baptist ERLC is the Christian groups filing friend-of-the-court briefs siding with the church in Missouri.

PLAYGROUND SAFETY PROGRAM

It noted the church is denied the benefit of a state-run playground safety program because that provision in the state constitution that "no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, section or denomination of religion."

The church's learning center had sought a state grant for the playground resurfacing with scrap tire material to improve playground safety at its preschool and daycare center.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources rejected the grant application, which could have given $30,000 in aid to the school.

In their brief the Catholic bishops argued that constitutional law does not authorize a blanket exclusion from public programs that provide "religiously neutral benefits" for secular purposes.

"Otherwise the government could exclude religious institutions from basic public services like police and fire protection."

The bishops said the religious school was otherwise eligible, but the State of Missouri denied it solely due to its religious affiliation.

The Missouri state constitution has since 1875 barred public money for the direct or indirect aid of any church or any minister or teacher.

The Catholic bishops rejected the claim that a grant would violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. They said, this claim could be used as "a pretext for penalizing religious groups whose beliefs or practices diverge from government-prescribed orthodoxy."

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