U.S. Supreme Court Decision
Issued on June 26, 2017
On June 26, 2017, in a separation of church and state case, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer. In a 7 – 2 decision, the court ruled that the “express policy of denying grants to any applicant owned or controlled by a church, sect or other religious entity violated the rights of Trinity Lutheran Church…under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by denying the church an available public benefit on account of its religious status.” With this decision, it should also be noted that under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) 501(c)(3), churches qualify for exemption from federal income tax. And under Section 137.100.5 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, real property used for charitable purposes are exempt from taxation for state, county or local purposes. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE
The stance taken by the church that they were discriminated against for a public benefit exposes a glaring hypocrisy – how a church desperately wanted a seat at the table for a discretionary public benefit while taking advantage of a tax law that permits it to not contribute funds for the same public benefit. What is even more shocking is that David Cortman of Alliance Defending, an organization supporting Trinity Lutheran Church in the case, stated that Missouri’s denial of funding “imposes special burdens on nonprofit organizations with a religious identity.” What burden is Trinity Lutheran Church suffering in this case? The church, unlike other groups, already has the privilege of not paying state and local property taxes. Yet they’ve come forward and demanded to be reimbursed for improvements made to their property. This case illustrates how the discrimination issue is being distorted. Discrimination cases often employ the term ‘similarly situated’ which, when used in this case, highlights the unequal position that churches have in the U.S. that others do not have and why the case was likely decided in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church incorrectly. LEARN MORE
- Freedom From Religion Foundation – nonprofit group protecting the principle of separation of state and church.
- Americans United – nonpartisan organization dedicated to the principle of church-state separation.
This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.