Church That Has Never Paid Taxes Demands Taxpayer Money For Playground

Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri has never paid a dime in taxes. But it seems church officials still believe that they are entitled to get free stuff, at the expense of those of us who do pay them.

In 2012, the church applied for a grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The taxpayer-funded grants allow qualifying organizations to purchase recycled materials, used to resurface playgrounds.

The DNR denied the application, citing the state’s Constitutional barrier against taxpayer funds being used to support a religious organization.

The exact wording of the state Constitution reads:

“No money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion….and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.”

Trinity Lutheran church responded to the denial by filing suit against the state, claiming ‘religious discrimination.’

The trial court ruled against the church, upholding the state Constitution and the validity of Missouri’s ‘No-Aid’ Clause.

But the church really, really wants Missouri taxpayers to pay for its playground resurfacing material. So much so that it appealed the decision, taking the case to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Arguments were presented this week.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation (ACLU), the ACLU of Missouri and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a 44-page brief in response to the church’s allegations that Missouri’s No-Aid Clause is discriminatory.

As stated in the brief, which can be read in full here:

“By barring government aid to religious schools and other religious institutions, these provisions (1) ensure that no taxpayer is forced to subsidize religion or religious exercise, bolstering religious liberty for all and (2) safeguard the integrity of (and financial support for) free public schools which, unlike many religious schools, are open to children and families of every faith, sexual orientation, and economic class, as well as children with disabilities.”

All churches and religious institutions in the United States are tax exempt organizations.

How often do we hear the ‘Christian’ right talk about freeloaders and people who want something for nothing? Yet these ‘religious’ institutions cry discrimination because they are barred from taking money from coffers they never paid into.

We see this happening across the United States, as Charter schools and religious schools and private school voucher programs suck money out of the public school system in states like Michigan, Florida, Texas and elsewhere.

On the bright side, Colorado courts upheld the U.S. Constitution in June of last year. The state’s highest court struck down the use of public funds for private school vouchers, a move which protected the state’s Constitutional barrier against public money “controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever.”

Then in September of 2015, in what was also seen as a major victory for public education, the Washington State Supreme Court found Charter schools to be unconstitutional.

And here again in Missouri, we see yet another religious organization lusting to get its hands on public dollars, while pleasantly enjoying the benefits of a tax exempt status.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet ruled on the Trinity Lutheran case. As Bloomberg reports here, the case could unhinge the Separation of Church and State clause that has long kept the government from controlling or being controlled by religion.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is tracking the case and will publish the outcome on their website here.

Featured image credit: Pixabay CCO