Is There Any Silver Lining to Trinity Lutheran Church, Inc. v. Comer?
Michigan Law Review Online, Vol. 116, p. 137, 2018
15 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2018
Date Written: May 22, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church, Inc. v. Comer is a significant setback for a strong separation of church and state. Missouri denied a playground grant to Trinity Lutheran because of a state constitutional provision that bans financial aid to churches. The church sued. The Supreme Court held not only that the Establishment Clause allowed the government to give taxpayer money to Trinity Lutheran, but that the Free Exercise Clause required it.
The decision’s many flaws are not the focus of this short Essay. Instead, this Essay dissects the Supreme Court’s reasoning in order to apply it to current controversies in related areas of law. Part I examines the Court’s analysis of the harms of express exclusion to religious exercise, deemed harmful in itself and for the coercive pressure it exerts. Part II applies that reasoning to Establishment Clause questions involving express exclusions (e.g., the parsonage exemption) or coercion (e.g., legislative prayers). Part III considers how the Trinity Lutheran Court’s arguments play out in equal protection, particularly the case of denying service to LGBTQ customers. In short, this Essay is an attempt to find the silver lining of Trinity Lutheran Church, Inc. v. Comer.
Keywords: Trinity Lutheran, church, religion, establishment, First Amendment, equal protection, LGBT, LGBTQ, discrimination
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