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On June 26, 2017 the Supreme Court of the United States issued its opinion in, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Carol S. Comer, Director, Missouri Department of Natural Resources.  This case dealt with whether or not the Department’s policy to categorically disqualify churches and other religious organizations from receiving certain grant money violated the Church’s rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.  In a 7-2 decision the Court ruled that denying the grant money to the Church, “simply because of what it is – a church” violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

This is the most recent in a long history of cases which deals with seemingly contradictory rights governmental agencies are forced to balance.  In this case specifically, the rights granted by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment were balanced against a government’s attempt to avoid violating the Establishment Clause. This case should cause any municipality that issues grants to reevaluate their policies to ensure compliance with the newly issued case law.  In addition, the outcome of this case may cause the State of New Jersey to adjust its policies when issuing grants, which could in turn increase the competition for limited grant money by opening up the pool of possible recipients.

You should review this case with your municipal attorney for additional information on how this recent decision will impact your municipality.

Contact:  Frank Marshall, Esq., League Staff Attorney, fmarshall@njslom.org, 609-695-3481 x. 137.

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