Let’s review what would happen if Trinity Lutheran wins

At the Supreme Court, Wednesday may turn out to be a big day — one that, depending on how the justices vote, could throw out the separation of church and state dead and buried….

Let’s review what would happen if Trinity Lutheran wins

At the Supreme Court, Wednesday may turn out to be a big day — one that, depending on how the justices vote, could throw out the separation of church and state dead and buried.

It comes down to two words: Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer. The case is somewhat abstract at first blush, involving Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Illinois. Trinity Lutheran, which serves about 80 children and adult adults, is housed in a nondenominational church near downtown Columbia. For 35 years, the church has rented a corner space at a local Boys and Girls Club for its preschool. Although the club technically belongs to the church, Trinity Lutheran has been renting the space for years and for the most part, operated a nice, functioning school there.

Trinity Lutheran sued the club, saying that its failure to be run as a church and close on Sundays violated the U.S. Constitution. On the basis of a clause in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the church argues that as a parish of the church, the school is entitled to a religious exemption from club regulations. A federal appeals court ruled for the club, but Trinity Lutheran appealed to the Supreme Court.

If Trinity Lutheran wins, it could potentially open the door for numerous other church-affiliated facilities that have hired their own teachers in non-traditional or non-religious environments to be required to also treat those employees as equal to any other employees on the club’s payroll. In addition, the church would argue that its preschoolers are sufficiently engaged to count as a distinct congregation — and that they need to be treated as a distinct congregation in order to be enrolled in a health insurance plan required by the federal health care law.

If Trinity Lutheran loses, the implications are far more broad. By disrupting the status quo on Sundays, and seeking to apply strict religious tests to matters of public accommodation, the church’s lawyers argued that a school classroom at a church affiliated with a church would act, in effect, as a church, thus creating a new form of opening the door to virtually every religious organization seeking a government-recognized religious exemption. This possibility is bad for secularists, and in particular, for educators and youth athletic groups — which could be legally at a severe disadvantage compared to other religious groups.

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