The Supreme Court concluded its work for this session on Monday siding with religious institutions in a major church-state decision and with no indication that pivotal Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is retiring.
The speculation about Kennedy, who has served on the court for nearly three decades and is almost always the deciding vote in divisive cases on the nation’s biggest controversies, dominated the end of a relatively quiet Supreme Court term.
But the court’s announcement of final decisions came and went without any word from Kennedy, whose former clerks had speculated he was considering leaving. The rumors were closely watched at the White House, where a vacancy would give President Trump the chance to solidify a more conservative Supreme Court.
In the church-state case, the court ruled 7-2 that religious institutions may not be excluded from state programs with a secular intent — in this case, making playgrounds safer.
Missouri’s state constitution, like those in about three dozen states, forbade government from spending any public money on “any church, sect, or denomination of religion.”
Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., wanted to participate in a state program that reimburses the cost of rubberizing the surface of playgrounds. But the state said that was not allowed. The exclusion has raised big questions about how to uphold the Constitution’s prohibition on government support for religion without discriminating against those who are religious.
Missouri’s state constitution, similar to those of about three dozen states, directs that “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who authored the opinion, wrote, “The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution . . . and cannot stand.”
The two dissenting votes came from Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.
SOURCE: Robert Barnes
The Washington Post