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Supreme Court seems to lean toward church in Lutheran playground case


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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Supreme Court justices seemed to side with the church in a separation of church and state case argued April 19 about a Missouri Lutheran preschool barred from receiving state funds for playground resurfacing using recycled tires because it is a church property.

In his first minutes before the court, David Cortman, arguing for the church in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, said: "The question is why would someone's religious status matter in the first place to receiving a government benefit?"

The justices seemed to settle on that point, questioning the state's decision to exclude the church from a grant program when there are federal programs in place that provide funding that could benefit religious institutions including a Department of Homeland Security program to improve security near synagogues or mosques and a program to repair buildings damaged by the bombing at the federal building in Oklahoma City.

James Layton, arguing for the state, said Missouri also would be against such programs because they similarly grant funds to religious institutions.

Layton, former solicitor general of Missouri, said the state would not block police and fire protection to churches because public safety is different since it is a service.

He said the state bars funding from religious institutions to avoid the appearance that it chooses among different churches or makes physical improvements to them.

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