For Immediate Release
WHITEHEADS FILE BRIEF AT SUPREME COURT IN TRINITY LUTHERAN CHURCH CASE
WASHINGTON – APRIL 15, 2016- – Whitehead Law Firm, LLC, in Kansas City, MO, has filed the merits brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a Missouri church pre-school and daycare center that was discriminated against by a state program that provides recycled tires to surface children’s playgrounds. The case is set for the October 2016 term of the Court, although a date has not been set for oral argument.
Trinity Lutheran Church Learning Center in Columbia, MO, sought to participate in the 2012 Playground Scrap Tire Surface Material Grant Program, operated by Missouri Department of Natural Resources with user fees derived from recycled auto tires. The Center wished to replace a large portion of the pea gravel surfacing on its playgrounds with a safer, recycled, pour-in-place, rubberized product. The Missouri DNR initially approved the grant, but then disqualified the learning center solely because it is operated by Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, Inc., pointing to a section of the state constitution that prohibits government aid to religion.
“The State’s only interest here should be children’s safety,” said Jonathan Whitehead, who represents the church along his father Michael and Alliance Defending Freedom, a Scottsdale-based public interest law firm. “These kids skin their knees when they fall on the playground just like other kids. Denying tire scraps to these pre-schoolers because their folks put them in a church school smacks of hostility and religious discrimination.”
Children’s safety is just as important on church daycare playgrounds as at other daycare playgrounds,” said ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley. “The state cannot single out this preschool for exclusion from the program because it is operated by a church. The U.S. Constitution prohibits this type of hostility to religion.”
“Seeking to protect children from harm while they play tag and go down the slide is about as far from an ‘essentially religious endeavor’ as one can get,” said an earlier court filing . “The DNR’s religious exclusion sends a message that Trinity’s children are less worthy of protection simply because they play on a playground owned by a church. This is not a mild disapproval of religion.”
“Programs, such as the one in this case, that evenhandedly allocate aid to a broad class of recipients without regard to religion, generally do not violate the Establishment Clause; indeed this Court has held that singling out religious entities for exclusion is unconstitutional,” Jonathan Whitehead noted.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case probably in the October 2016 Term. No date has been scheduled for the hearing.
Justice Antonin Scalia was on the court when it decided to hear Trinity's appeal. It is unclear whether a successor to Scalia will have been confirmed by the Senate by the time the oral argument is heard.
Michael Whitehead practices law in suburban Kansas City, often teaming with his son, Jonathan Whitehead, a Harvard-trained trial lawyer who is also an ADF ally. www.whiteheadlawllc.com. Michael is also general counsel for the Missouri Baptist Convention.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith. For more information, seehttp://tinyurl.com/q3lvfl4