U.S. top court backs church in key religious rights case

Activists rally outside U.S. Supreme Court after the Court sided with Trinity Lutheran Church, which objected to being denied public money in Missouri, in Washington, U.S.,

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sided with a church that objected to being denied public money in Missouri, potentially lessening America’s separation of church and state by allowing governments more leeway to fund religious entities directly.

The justices, in a 7-2 ruling, found that Missouri unlawfully prevented Trinity Lutheran Church access to a state grant program that helps nonprofit groups buy rubber playground surfaces made from recycled tires.

Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said that the exclusion of the church “solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution.”

In denying the church’s bid for public funding, Missouri cited its constitution that bars “any church, sect or denomination of religion” or clergy member from receiving state money, language that goes further than the U.S. Constitution’s separation of church and state.

Trinity Lutheran, which runs a preschool and daycare center, wanted a safer surface for its playground. Its legal fight was led by the Alliance Defending Freedom conservative Christian legal advocacy group.

The dispute pitted two provisions of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment against each other: the guarantee of the free exercise of religion and the Establishment Clause, which requires the separation of church and state.

School In Prayer Lawsuit Drops Free Period To End Suit

A Colorado Springs high school that had been at the subject of a lawsuit over banning Christian students from meeting during their “free period” is sidestepping the issues of the suit by eliminating the free period for students.

Now former student of Pine Creek High School, Chase Windebank had been meeting with other Christian students during “seminar”, the school’s version of study hall.  The students would meet to pray, sing worship songs and encourage each other in a room away from students who did not have faith.

The school stepped in during Windebank’s senior year and said they would no longer be allowed to meet during the seminar time, because the school considered it to be “instructional time”.  The school said they were not violating Windebank’s civil rights by redefining the period to bar the Christian students from meeting.

Windebank filed suit with the help of the Alliance Defending Freedom because other students were still able to express themselves during the free period while the Christians were being blocked.

“I’m actually quite excited that I was able to take this stand and be able to make a victory for free speech in public schools,” he said. “Not just for me because I filed this lawsuit. For those after me as well, being able to express what they believe.”

Windebank says the school has agreed to allow prayer and gathering of students during lunch.

The school claims the suit’s dismissal has nothing to do with a deal and that those who pursued the suit are grandstanding.

“Pine Creek High School has never had, and does not have, a policy in place which restricts students’ rights to associate at lunch, and by extension to meet with others and discuss faith, pray, or talk about the news of the day from a Christian perspective,” he wrote. “As such, no nonexistent policy was revised to achieve the suit’s abandonment.”

Church Able To Mention Jesus Again At Housing Development Where They Were Once Thrown Out

A Pennsylvania church has been able to return to a housing project where they had seen God move in great ways after intervention from a civil rights group helped them regain access.

Living Waters Church in Meadville, PA had been reaching out to families at Gill Village housing project after the children’s ministry director saw kids eating pancake mix out of the box.  Rachael Groll then began visiting several times a week with free food and clothing provided by the church.  Eventually, the church offered transportation to community events and Sunday morning services.

Then last September the church received a call from the government housing agency telling them that they were no longer welcome to set foot on the property because they were a religious entity.

“I’ve never been up against anything like this, and when I got the call, honestly, I just wept,” Groll told Christian News. “I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. I’ve built relationships with these kids and their families.”

The church was eventually allowed to return because officials admitted the church had made a difference…but the church was not allowed to mention anything having to do with their faith.

“The gospel is the source of the hope and life-change they saw in the community,” Groll said. “Basically they told us, ‘You can pour into the community as long as you want; just don’t tell them why you’re doing it.’”

The church then contacted the Alliance Defending Freedom who informed the housing authority the church had the right under the First Amendment to tell the residents why they were helping them.

“Religious speech receives full and robust protection under the First Amendment and cannot lawfully be excluded from government property simply because of its religious nature and viewpoint,” the ADF told the housing authority. “Government censorship of religious speech is the most invidious form of speech discrimination known to First Amendment jurisprudence, and is presumptively unconstitutional.”

The housing authority has now removed all restrictions from the church.

California Bill Would Overturn Government Mandate Churches Pay For Abortions

A proposed bill in California is aiming to overturn an order of the California Department of Managed Health Care that requires all insurance companies in the state to cover abortions, effectively forcing all churches and religious groups to pay for abortions.

“Abortion is a basic health care service,” Director Michelle Rouillard wrote to the seven insurance companies that refused to offer coverage.“All health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally.”

The action of the CDMHC was widely believed to be in response to two Roman Catholic/Jesuit universities to no longer pay for abortions.

California Assembly member Shannon Grove has presented a proposal that would overturn the mandate along with making it illegal for entities to be punished in any way for not providing abortion coverage.

“Notwithstanding any other law, a health care service plan is not required to include abortion as a covered benefit. The director shall not deny, suspend, or revoke the license of, or otherwise sanction or discriminate against, a licensee on the basis that the licensee excludes coverage for abortions pursuant to this section,” A.B. 1254 reads.

Casey Mattox of the Alliance Defending Freedom testified in support of the bill.

“Assembly Bill 1254 would simply restore the status quo ante and ensure California’s continued compliance with its obligations under the Weldon Amendment,” he stated. “It would not prohibit insurers from covering any legal health service, but religious employers would remain free, as before, to contract for insurance plans that did not require them to pay for abortions.”

“Churches and other religious employers should not be coerced by the government into violating their fundamental beliefs by being party to elective abortion,” Mattox continued. “When Congress enacted the Weldon Amendment, it sought to ensure that the government could never strong-arm pro-life employers into paying for abortion coverage. California is blatantly ignoring federal law and pushing its abortion ideology on citizens while still receiving taxpayer money.”

New York City Continues To Fight Church Meetings In Schools

The administration of New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio is continuing a fight to keep Christians from being able to hold meetings in public schools as other taxpayers of the city are permitted to do.

The case of Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education has been in the court system for 17 years.  The Board of Education refused to allow the group to meet inside a school saying that allowing a church to meet in school facilities was a violation of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court refused to hear the case.  However, in 2012 a U.S. District Judge issued a permanent injunction allowing the group to hold services inside a school saying the school was violating the Free Exercise clause of the Constitution in their denial.

The city appealed that decision, getting the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to rule 2-1 that it was Constitutional to discriminate against Christian groups and other religions.  That ruling is now before the Supreme Court.

“The department’s decision to make public schools available to religious organizations for a wide range of activities, but not for worship services or as a house of worship, is constitutional,” the city stated in a brief to the Supreme Court. “The policy does not prohibit, limit, or burden any religious practice; does not entangle the government in matters of religion; and does not impair petitioners’ ability to speak freely.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom is asking the court to uphold the Constitutional right for Christians to use the facilities like any other taxpayer.

“Churches meeting in New York City public schools for worship services have fed the poor and needy, assisted in rehabilitating drug addicts and gang members, helped rebuild marriages and families, and provided for the disabled,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “The churches have also helped the public schools themselves by volunteering to paint the interiors of inner-city schools; donating computers, musical instruments, and air conditioners; and providing effective after-school programs to help all students with their studies.”

Supreme Court To Hear Church Sign Case

The Supreme Court is going to hear arguments in the case of a lawsuit brought by a small church against the town of Gilbert, Arizona.

The city has a law that prohibits the church from posting roadside signs.

The Alliance Defending Freedom is representing the Good News Presbyterian Church in the case.  ADF Senior Web Writer Marissa Poulson said Monday that the signs are important.

“By stating the church’s signs are less valuable than political and other speech, the town is ignoring the church’s free speech rights and claiming to have the power to handicap, and even eliminate, speech it deems unimportant,” wrote Poulson.

The suit focuses on the fact that church signs are given restrictions that are not placed on other form of speech.

  • Political signs can be up to 32 square feet, displayed for many months, and unlimited in number.
  • Ideological signs can be up to 20 square feet, displayed indefinitely, and unlimited in number.
  • Religious signs can only be 6 square feet, may be displayed for no more than 14 hours, and are limited to 4 per property.

The ADF says that if the government can use this law to restrict religious speech, there’s nothing to stop them from restricting other speech.

Court Overturns Decision Striking Down Pastoral Housing Exemptions

A virulent anti-Christian organization that found a liberal judge to back them in an attempt to strip pastors of a tax exemption for housing has lost at the appeals level.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago reversed the decision of liberal Judge Barbara Crabb who had backed the efforts of the anti-Christian Freedom From Religion Foundation.  The court ruled that the FFRF had no standing to bring the case and that Judge Crabb had no basis for her ruling.

“The plaintiffs were never denied the parsonage exemption because they never asked for it, ” the three-judge panel stated. “Without a request, there can be no denial. And absent any personal denial of a benefit, the plaintiff s’ claim amounts to nothing more than a generalized grievance about §107(2)’s unconstitutionality, which does not support standing.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of 600 churches, applauded the court making the Constitutionally sound ruling.

“The atheists who filed this suit may have an axe to grind against religion, but as the 7th Circuit found, that doesn’t give them sufficient standing to challenge a tax benefit for which it has never applied and that has been provided to pastors for decades,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “The allowance many churches provide to pastors is church money, not government money. It is constitutional and should continue to be respected and protected.”

Christian Teen Sues Over Prayer Ban In School

A Christian teenager has sued his school after he was prohibited from praying, singing and discussing religious topics with classmates during the school’s “free period.”

Chase Windebank, a senior at Pine Creek High School, has been leading a group for the last three years that meets during what the school calls the “seminar” period.  On Mondays and Wednesdays students can participate in a variety of activities and students with passing grades may also do so on Fridays.

“During the free time, students are permitted to engage in a virtually unlimited variety of activities, including gathering with other students inside or outside; reading; sending text messages to their friends; playing games on their phone; visiting the bathrooms; getting a snack; visiting teachers; and conducting official meetings of school clubs,” states Alliance Defending Freedom.

The school claims that because the “Seminar” is considered class time, they’re now banning Christian students from meeting.  The school has not backed down despite it being shown that their actions are violations of the Constitution.

“Public schools should encourage the free exchange of ideas. Instead, this school implemented an ill-conceived ban that singles out religious speech for censorship during free time,” remarked ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco.

Churches Forced To Pay For Abortion File Suit

Seven California churches have filed suit against the state because they are being forced to pay for abortions.

The California Department of Managed Health Care sent letters to seven insurance companies that refused to offer abortion coverage.

“Abortion is a basic health care service,” director Michelle Rouillard wrote to the seven insurance companies that refused to offer coverage.“All health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally.”

The Life Legal Defense Foundation and the Alliance Defending Freedom are defending the churches, claiming the state’s mandate is a violation of the federal Weldon Amendment, which says a state can be forfeited of certain funds if they discriminate against a healthcare provider who does not pay for abortions.

“Forcing a church to be party to elective abortion is one of the utmost-imaginable assaults on our most fundamental American freedoms,” ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox also stated in a press release about the matter on Thursday. “California is flagrantly violating the federal law that protects employers from being forced into having abortion in their health insurance plans. No state can blatantly ignore federal law and think that it should continue to receive taxpayer money.”

Students Worldwide Gather For “See You At The Pole”

The annual See You At The Pole event today brought millions of youth around the world together for a time of prayer, praise and petitioning God for the schools’ safety and well-being for the upcoming year.

The event had a humble beginning in the town of Burleson, Texas in the early 1990s and now takes place in all 50 states and over 20 countries around the world.

“A small group of teenagers in Burleson, Texas, came together for a DiscipleNow weekend in early 1990,” the See You At The Pole website explains. “On Saturday night their hearts were penetrated like never before, when they became broken before God and burdened for their friends. Compelled to pray, they drove to three different schools that night. Not knowing exactly what to do, they went to the school flagpoles and prayed for their friends, schools, and leaders. Those students had no idea how God would use their obedience.”

Every year has a theme, with this year’s theme based on Ephesians 6:18, “Never Stop Praying.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom had been active in the days leading up to the event, providing students with information for administrators that might try to stop them from praying.

“Students don’t abandon their constitutional freedoms at the schoolhouse gate,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “They continue to have the freedom to peacefully express their beliefs while at school, and that certainly includes prayer. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all students, regardless of the students’ religious or political beliefs.”