Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has reversed a state regulation that blocks grants to religious institutions as the U.S. Supreme Court hears a major case that was prompted by the policy.
"We have hundreds of outstanding religious organizations ... doing great work on behalf of kids and families every single day. We should be encouraging that work. So, today we are changing that prejudiced policy," Greitens said on Thursday last week.
Despite the reversal, the U.S. Supreme Court will still be hearing the Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer case, which will determine whether the state can fund religious institutions for non-religious programs.
The case began when the state denied Trinity Lutheran's application for a program that recycles scrap rubber tires into rubber surfaces for playgrounds. Missouri's constitution prohibits the state from funding "any church, sect, or denomination of religion," according to The Stream.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Trinity Lutheran, argued that an institution cannot be denied access to a secular benefit just because of its religious background. The lawsuit made its way to the high court after it was dismissed by a district court judge.
On Friday, the Supreme Court told lawyers from both sides to file letters on what the reversal means for the lawsuit. Both sides stated in their filings on Tuesday that the high court should move forward with the case.
ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman said that the reversal of the policy "doesn't resolve the discriminatory actions," and he described the state's previous action as a "direct violation of the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedent."
The ADF also expressed its concern that the policy reversal might only be temporary and would not mean fair treatment for religious institutions in the long run.
"A change in administration could readily lead to a resumption of the State's former policy of excluding churches from the Scrap Tire Program, or the governor could simply change his mind due to political pressure," said Cortman, according to Church Militant.
Greitens agreed that his decision does not affect the case, but he noted that it ensures that "future groups will not be discriminated against based on religion again."
Religious leaders in Missouri praised Greiten's decision, but the American Civil Liberties Union accused the governor of a "dangerous" blurring of church and state.