8th Cir. Affirms Rejection of Church’s Application to Participate in Missouri Recycling Program


The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) denied the 2012 application of the Trinity Lutheran Church to participate in a state program that makes state solid waste management funds available to qualifying organizations to purchase recycled tires to resurface playgrounds. This use of recycled tires is described as a “beneficial use of solid waste”. Trinity Lutheran’s application was rejected on the basis of a long-standing provision of the Missouri Constitution which specifically provides that “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church”. Trinity Lutheran filed a challenge to this decision in federal court, alleging that the rejection of its application, which the DNR ranked 5th of 44 applications received in 2012, violated its rights under both the federal and Missouri state constitutions. Noting that Missouri has a long history of maintaining a very high wall between church and state, the federal district court dismissed the lawsuit, which the Eighth Circuit affirmed in an opinion released on May 29, 2015. The case is reported as Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Pauley.

Circuit Judge Gruender filed a partial dissent arguing that Trinity Lutheran sufficiently pled a violation of the Free Exercise Clause and a derivative claim under the Equal Protection Clause. Judge Gruender also noted that “school children playing of a safer rubber surface made from environmentally-friendly recycled tires has nothing to do with religion”.