The Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel each applauded Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that rejected the exclusion of houses from worship from a government grants program.
The 7-2 ruling “puts state aid to synagogues (and other houses of worship) and parochial schools for security and safety measures on an explicit and solid constitutional footing,” said Nathan Diament, executive director of Orthodox Union Advocacy Center in Washington. “The chief justice’s majority opinion makes it clear that a state may not exclude an institution from a neutral government benefit program because of the institution’s religious status.”
Calling the decision “one of the most significant rulings on religious liberty in many generations,” Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel vice president for federal affairs and Washington director, said the decision “bodes well for the future in providing a full measure of equality for American persons and institutions of faith.”
The court ruled that the state of Missouri should not have denied Trinity Lutheran Church a grant to build a children’s playground because of the church’s status as a religious institution, since it met the criteria for the state program.
Justice Stephen Breyer, in a concurring opinion, wrote that the state may not cut off a religious institution from “‘a general program designed to secure or to improve the health and safety of children’ without running afoul of the Constitution.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in her dissent that the court’s decision “profoundly changes” the relationship between church and state by saying that the Constitution requires the state to directly fund a church project.
“Its decision 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,” she wrote in the dissent that also was signed by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“It is Agudath Israel of America’s hope and belief that the ruling will have broad effect across our nation, particularly in states that have Blaine Amendments, and will find widespread application to many areas, including school choice and security grant programs, that are of vital interest to the Orthodox Jewish community,” Rabbi Cohen said.
Missouri is one of thirty-nine states with Blaine Amendment-like constitutional restrictions. Agudath Israel has fought against these constrictions for decades, saying this week that they “represent a dark cloud over our nation’s history.”
“They are debilitating provisions born of bigotry specifically targeting religion and its adherents,” Agudath said. “That they have been allowed to remain in force in our day is an explicit endorsement of this despicable prejudice. The Court’s decision, once and for all, rejects this hostility toward religion and the religious, and cannot help but seriously undermine and limit the scope and application of these Blaine provisions.”
OU President Mark Bane said his organization expects “the ruling to assist us in expanding the number and type of [government] programs which aid faith communities with their safety costs.”