The Most Important (And Scary) Thing The Supreme Court Did Today

Most of the attention this morning and going forward, as far as the Supreme Court’s actions today, will focus on Tr-mp’s Muslim travel ban (the Court partially lifted the stay and will hear the case next fall). You can see the first reaction in this Huffpo header:

huffpo and sc

Other big news from the Court today was that it will hear a case about a bigoted baker who didn’t want to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in Colorado because Jesus said not to, or something like that. It’s unclear how the Court will rule, of course, but if the bigoted baker said Jesus didn’t like dark-skinned people marrying light-skinned people, would the Court see that hypothetical case (once upon a time—1967!—it wasn’t hypothetical) in the same way? It’s hard to imagine that it would, but after what we have seen for the last two years, who knows? At least this Court (only by a 6-3 vote) knocked on their pious posteriors the religious zealots who passed a law in Arkansas “that treated same-sex couples differently than opposite-sex couples on their children’s birth certificates,” as USA Today put it. So, the country hasn’t gone completely nuts, although…

The most disturbing thing that happened today, as far as this former evangelical is concerned, was the Court’s decision in the Missouri case of Trinity Lutheran Church wanting public funds—yours and mine if you live in Missouri—to improve its playground at its church school. Most folks have had the attitude that, “It’s just a playground. Stop making such a big deal out of it.” (And that was, essentially, the argument of five of the justices in the case.)

The details are these: Trinity Lutheran, of Columbia, applied for a grant from a Missouri state fund that subsidizes the purchase of recycled tires for use on playground surfaces. Image result for separation of church and stateThe church operates a learning center for youngsters and it apparently had pea gravel on the playground, much like most of the playgrounds at my elementary school had in Kansas back in the 1960s. The Missouri constitution, going way beyond our national Constitution, expressly forbids “any church, sect or denomination of religion”—that means Allah-based denominations, too, which I’ll get back to—from getting public dough. Period. Except, the conservatives on the Court and, sadly, a couple of the allegedly non-conservatives, Breyer and Kagan (not the first time they’ve strayed), decided that they would take the period away from that provision in the Missouri constitution and add a few more sentences, like these from the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts:

The consequence is, in all likelihood, a few extra scraped knees. But the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.

So much for respecting the rights of states to control their own church-state destiny. This ruling will almost certainly have an effect on more than 30 other states across the country, who have sane and saintly restrictions on giving public money directly to church organizations. Let’s hope the Court’s conservatives (and Breyer and Kagan, whatever they are) keep all this in mind when it comes time to rule on bigoted bakers, who may or may not live in gay-friendly states.

In any case, I think it is important to read the introduction of the dissent in the Trinity case, written by Justice Sotomayor and joined by the great Ginsburg:

To hear the Court tell it, this is a simple case about recycling tires to resurface a playground. The stakes are higher. This case is about nothing less than the relationship between religious institutions and the civil government—that is, between church and state. The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church. Its decision slights both our precedents and our history, and its reasoning weakens this country’s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both.

Sotomayor goes on, craftily, to state the mission of this particular church:

Founded in 1922, Trinity Lutheran Church (Church) “operates . . . for the express purpose of carrying out the commission of . . . Jesus Christ as directed to His church
on earth.” […] The Church uses “preaching, teaching, worship, witness, service, and fellowship according to the Word of God” to carry out its mission “to ‘make disciples.’”

She notes that the learning center the church operates is, by its own admission,

“a ministry of the Church and incorporates daily religion and developmentally
appropriate activities into . . . [its] program.” […] In this way, “[t]hrough the Learning Center, the Church teaches a Christian world view to children of members of the Church, as well as children of non-member residents” of the area…. These activities represent the Church’s “sincere religious belief . . . to use [the Learning Center] to teach the Gospel to children of its members, as well to bring the Gospel message to non-members.”

As you can see, it isn’t just about recycled rubber and children’s knees. It’s about whether people who don’t believe in the mission of this or any church are nevertheless forced to support it, through the agency of the state. It is here where, for me, Allah comes in. What if, instead of a religious entity called Trinity Lutheran Church, we had a religious entity called, say, the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, also located in Columbia (reminder: “Friday Prayers at 12:10pm and 1:10pm”). The mission of that mosque is as follows:

The Islamic Center welcomes visitors at all times in order foster a culture of tolerance and understanding in central Missouri.

Now, one might ask who would object to giving this mosque, if it ran a school (it so happens it does), funds for safer playgrounds? I know who would. Me. I wouldn’t want public funds spent on the mission of this mosque, no matter how noble it might be. But you know who else would object? The same people who are praising this 7-2 disturbing decision on behalf of a Christian church and school: the Radical Religious Right, like the reactionary Christian “non-profit” group called Alliance Defending Freedom, who led the fight in the Trinity Lutheran case. We can safely assume the ADF would be full of silence if a mosque wanted rubberized playgrounds subsidized by the state.

Oddly, the ADF’s senior counsel actually argued that “an old constitutional amendment from the 1800s,” should not be “applied in a strict way.” Would to God he felt the same way about certain biblical passages from the Iron Age, like “If a man lies with a male as with a woman…they shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:13). But he doesn’t. His group has been labeled as “virulently anti-gay” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and self-admits that it “seeks to recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries.” Yikes.

The ADF group was founded by extremists like James Dobson, who these days have allied with Tr-mp to crucify their own weird incarnation of Jesus. Dobson, who founded the godawful group, Focus on the [heterosexual Christian] Family, said that one of the reasons conservative Christians preferred a thrice-married sexual assaulter over Clinton was that she supported “the killing of babies through the entire period of gestation and delivery,” a position Tr-mp actually held until the day before he decided to court extremists like Dobson. But these religious fanatics trust that Tr-mp will appoint another justice or two who will actually overturn Roe v. Wade. “Trust Tr-mp.” Now that takes a lot of faith, a lot of Moses-parting-the-Red-Sea faith, a lot of Joshua-stops-the-Sun faith.

The point is that not only are these right-wing Christians hateful zealots—when it comes to gays and women who value their reproductive freedom—but they are hypocrites. They would not be spending their collection-plate money on any mosque in Columbia who wanted a rubber playground. The ADL (partially funded by the DeVos family) would not have taken on the case of ISLAMIC CENTER OF CENTRAL MISSOURI vs. COMER, DIRECTOR, MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES. Nope. We know better than that. Their hypocrisy is all part of a belief system that Christian civilization is under attack by non-Christian enemies, either secularists or Muslims or both.

As a footnote to this madness, here is a paragraph from an NPR story on the decision having to do with a dangling footnote that a couple of zealots want to disown:

Two justices, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, refused to sign on to a footnote explicitly stating that the court’s approval applied only to playground funding and should not be read as applying to parochial schools in general.

You get that? First we have Tr-mp’s and McConnell’s illegitimate justice, Gorsuch, making it clear that everything we heard about his reactionary views is absolutely true. And then we have both Gorsuch and Thomas declaring that they would go further, in terms of church and state entanglement. Perhaps, someday, we will pay the principals of religious schools for the public good. Or pay pastors to preach hate. Who the eff knows? Gorsuch wrote:

The general principles here do not permit discrimination against religious exercise — whether on the playground or anywhere else.

Some of us tried to scream from the rooftops just how dangerous it was for non-Republicans to flirt with anti-Hillary rhetoric long enough to hurt her in the general election and risk a Tr-mp win—and with it the guarantee of a Neil Gorsuch justice. Now, it is too late.

We have to do better next time.

Now, we have to hope against hope that the rumours that Justice Anthony Kennedy—not exactly a flaming liberal—is considering retirement are false. Now, we have to hope that Justice Ginsburg, and others on the Court who reject the damaging dogma of Gorsuch and Alito and Thomas, have a happy and healthy and long, long, life in public service.



  1. Remember, the 1st amendment starts with the phrase, “Congress shall make no law . . .” Doesn’t say a damn thing about the Supreme Court. But, of course, the Court effectively makes laws all the time, thereby ignoring the separation of powers.

    That said, it seems to me that what we have in this particular case is the proverbial camel with it’s proverbial nose under the proverbial tent. It’s a slippery slope and a dangerous precedent. The court has opened the door to more litigation involving the church/state relationship. The result could easily becomr an eventual tearing down of the wall of separation.

    If these justices present themselves as experts on the constitution, then they should understand that one of the most compelling reasons for establishing this country in the first place was to get away from the oppressive Christianity in Europe. If they fail to accept that fundamental objective, then they are violating their oath of office to uphold the constitution. Of course, these days, violating an oath of office doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. We are supposed to be a nation of laws, not a nation of opinions. Yet, here we are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Herb,

      You said, “violating an oath of office doesn’t even raise an eyebrow.” That is absolutely correct. But, damn. think about that. Think about that. Wow.



  2. While toying with the idea of maybe buying a new car recently, we took a test drive in one. (We later decided to fix up the old one rather than go new.) The salesman was making patter from the backseat and at one point worked into the conversation a question: “Do you have a church here in Joplin?” Being caught by surprise, I blurted out that we were “between churches.” Of course, that wasn’t true, we are out of churches. Why did I lie? Well, the subject was hardly appropriate for the occasion, but the prevarication still bothers me. I hardly ever tell lies, even white ones. Such is the power of cultural persuasion. Religion is the most powerful of tribal memes, is it not? And sometimes not so subtle. The world is changing but we have a long way to go.


    • Jim,

      How interesting! I confess I probably would have done that years ago myself. Now I tend to use the opportunity to challenge folks who so inappropriately attempt to proselytize that way. But I sort of enjoy that!

      I’m guessing this was at Roper?



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