Can I be honest?
My head is still spinning after all the big religion-related news from the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.
As you may have noticed, I did a post late Monday afternoon on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case:
And this morning, tmatt followed up that post with still more cake — I mean, still more reflection on the journalistic questions associated with that high-profile clash of religious freedom vs. gay rights:
But now I want to call attention to another of the major headlines from Monday: The lede from The Associated Press:
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that churches have the same right as other charitable groups to seek state money for new playground surfaces and other nonreligious needs.
But the justices stopped short of saying whether the ruling applies to school voucher programs that use public funds to pay for private, religious schooling.
By a 7-2 vote, the justices sided with Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, which had sought a state grant to put a soft surface on its preschool playground.
Chief Justice John Roberts said for the court that the state violated the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment by denying a public benefit to an otherwise eligible recipient solely on account of its religious status. He called it "odious to our Constitution" to exclude the church from the grant program, even though the consequences are only "a few extra scraped knees."
The case arose from an application the church submitted in 2012 to take part in Missouri's scrap-tire grant program, which reimburses the cost of installing a rubberized playground surface made from recycled tires. The money comes from a fee paid by anyone who buys a new tire. The church's application to resurface the playground for its preschool and daycare ranked fifth out of 44 applicants.
The most diehard GetReligion readers (I count at least three of you) may recall that we praised a Kansas City Star overview of this case way back in October:
Yes, it's definitely a fascinating case.
And here's what's refreshing: The Star gives it high-profile, unbiased coverage that highlights the key issues and potential ramifications in a way that treats all sides fairly, starting right at the top.
Rick Montgomery — the same reporter who wrote that preview story — handled the Star's solid front-page report today on the court's ruling and notes that some are calling it "a landmark ruling for religious freedom." NBC's Pete Williams used similarly lofty language, describing the decision as "one of the most important rulings on religious rights in decades."
So what exactly does the ruling mean? What is the big-picture takeaway? For that kind of insight, GetReligion readers will need to turn to some of the usual suspects — and I mean that in the most positive way. Among those suspects: Emma Green of The Atlantic. Don't miss her helpful report.
And yes, this is always awkward when we praise our former GetReligion colleague, Sarah Pulliam Bailey of the Washington Post. But her story on why the Trinity Lutheran Case matters is must reading.
Bailey's sourcing is outstanding, as illustrated by this small snippet of her report:
The ruling, said Douglas Laycock, a professor at the University of Virginia Law School, means that Blaine Amendments are unconstitutional in at least some of their applications. “The question is how many applications, or which applications,” he said. “The case is not just about playgrounds.” He expects it will be easier for funds to go to religious institutions. In Colorado, the state court said the state’s Blaine Amendment barred religious schools from participating in a school choice program, and Laycock expects that it will be readdressed by the court.
Some of the Blaine Amendments are written in a way that could still prevent funds from going to religious institutions, said Daniel Hemel, a professor at University of Chicago Law School. For instance, he said, Connecticut has an amendment that says “no law shall ever be made, authorizing [the School Fund] to be diverted to any other use than the encouragement and support of public schools.” Even though it would essentially prevent religious institutions from receiving public funds, the Connecticut law doesn’t target churches, so it is likely fine, unlike some of the wording of other amendments.
But this Supreme Court ruling, Hemel said, could give some people a new argument for including religious institutions in subsidy programs and invalidate subsidy programs that were written before this case.
Finally, I'll admit that there's every chance I've missed other exceptional coverage of this case. Did I mention that my head is still spinning? If there are links I've missed, by all means, please share them in the comments section or tweet us at @GetReligion.