A playground spat over surfacing made out of scrap tires is looming as a pivotal church-state separation case, one that religious freedom advocates say could provide relief from what they see as government hostility toward faith.
The U.S. Supreme Court teed up the battle when it agreed last week to consider Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley, a 2013 lawsuit filed by the church after the state of Missouri rejected its application for a grant to replace its preschool’s playground pebbles with repurposed rubber from old tires.
State officials said the preschool was ineligible because it was run by a church, citing an 1875 Missouri constitutional amendment — known as the Blaine Amendment — prohibiting public funds from being used “in aid of any church.”
Three dozen states have similar amendments, but they “shouldn’t be applied in a way that would treat churches and religious organizations worse than everybody else simply because they’re a church,” said Erik Stanley, Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel.
“Taken to the extreme, it could even mean that a state could justify not providing fire protection to a church,” Mr. Stanley said. “They could say, ‘That’s aid to a church. And so we’re not going to do that under our state constitutional provision.’”