SCOTUS Takes the Wheel: Is Church Participation in State Tire Recycling Program Constitutional?


The ability of churches and other religious institutions to engage in ordinary business activities can be unexpectedly and adversely affected by provisions in some state constitutions tireswhich can be interpreted to exclude them from having access to public funds and public resources based on nineteenth century constitutional amendments.  On January 15, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an important case from Missouri, which should result in a definitive review of a long-time prohibition in the case of Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley.  The Court will review a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which held that the Missouri state constitution which provides that “no money shall be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church,” serves to disqualify a church from participating in a state program which makes state funds available to organizations to purchase recycled tires to resurface playgrounds. The dissenting judge on the Eighth Circuit panel observed that “school children playing on a safer rubber surface made from environmentally-friendly recycled tires has nothing to do with religion.”

Photo:  crabchick, Tyres at Sharpness – Creative Commons