- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2016

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Lawyers in a case involving a Missouri church and a state agency have been preparing for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, which involves government funds and religious institutions.

The Supreme Court said in January it will hear Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia’s challenge to its 2012 exclusion from a state program that provides money to use ground-up tires to cushion playgrounds.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources based its denial of funds to the church on the Missouri Constitution’s prohibition of public money to aid any church, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported (http://j.mp/29aS8FV ).

The church sued and lost in federal court then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to decide whether a state violates churches’ constitutional rights when it refuses to include them in general aid programs.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization, is representing Trinity Lutheran Church and recently filed a brief on the case with the Supreme Court. Erik Stanley, a member of the legal team, expects the court to hear arguments in the case in early October. He said the playground is secular.

“People of faith should not be discriminated against solely because they’re religious,” he said.

Nanci Gonder, spokeswoman for the Missouri attorney general’s office, said Assistant Attorney General James Farnsworth will argue the case before the Supreme Court. The state contends its decision to not fund the program did not infringe on the church’s rights to free exercise of religion or equal protection. The state’s legal brief in the case was filed late last month.

“It is difficult to conceive of a less oppressive burden on the exercise of religion than the state’s decision not to pay for an elective upgrade to a church’s physical property that the church insists is not remotely religious,” the brief said.

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Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.columbiatribune.com

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