Saturday, May 30, 2015

8th Circuit Upholds Missouri's Blaine Amendments Against 1st and 14th Amendment Attack

In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc.v. Pauley, (8th Cir., May 29, 2015), the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, rejected arguments that Missouri's Blaine Amendments violate the free exercise, establishment and equal protection clauses of the federal Constitution. At issue was the refusal by Missouri's Department of Natural Resources of a grant application by Trinity Church for a Playground Scrap Tire Surface Material Grant that would allow it to resurface a playground at its day care and preschool facility on church premises. In refusing the grant, the Department pointed to Missouri Constitution, Art. I Sec. 7, that prohibits public funds from being spent "in aid of any church, section or denomination of religion." The majority said in part:
Trinity Church seeks an unprecedented ruling -- that a state constitution violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause if it bars the grant of public funds to a church. To prevail, Trinity Church must clear a formidable if not insurmountable hurdle, what appears to be controlling adverse precedent.
Judge Gruender dissented, saying that Trinity Church has sufficiently pleaded a Free Exercise violation.