Monday's ruling said Missouri was wrong to exclude Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri from a program meant to help non-profits cover their gravel playgrounds with a rubber surface made from recycled tires.
The justices decided a major case about separation of church and state arising from a dispute over playground funding in Missouri-with implications for all U.S. taxpayers.
In a 7-2 ruling, the court held in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer that states can not prohibit churches from receiving otherwise generally available benefits based purely on their being a religious institution.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, "There is no question that Trinity Lutheran was denied a grant simply because of what it is, a church".
In this January 26, 2016 file photo, the empty playground at Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo. Thus, they said, religious schools were being treated "worse than everyone else", as David Cortman, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, put it. Since the church would have otherwise qualified, the state's decision was held to violate the U.S. Constitution's prohibition on interference with the free exercise of religion. "The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church". He said the government does not deny police and fire protection to churches, and the same applies to a "general program created to improve the health and safety of children".
Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch are skeptical of this note but still voted in line with the majority.
A closely watched Supreme Court case on the separation of church and state ended Monday in what likely amounts to a draw for advocates of school choice and civil libertarians. Their requests for state money would be "judged on the merits like any other applicant", he said.More news: Nobel-winning Chinese dissident given medical parole
The court today found that Missouri violated the First Amendment by denying public money to a church for a playground because of its religious status. In fact, justices asked, didn't other state funds, such as police and fire protection, also benefit religious institutions? Moreover, he said the government in this case "is not being asked to fund a religious activity".
Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion saying the court had swept away legal precedents that allow for limits on state funding of churches.
The decision came on the same day that the court agreed to hear a major case about whether bakers can refuse to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples on the grounds of their religious beliefs.
In the majority opinion, Roberts said in one of his footnotes that the decision was limited in scope to just the issue involving the playground.
"The Chief Justice's opinion states that religious institutions can not be singled out for disfavored treatment for public benefits simply because they are religious".
Sotomayor said the court described the Lutheran school decision as "a simple case about recycling tires to resurface a playground", but she warned that the "stakes are higher".
The action Monday is a victory for President Donald Trump in the biggest legal controversy of his young presidency. Reversing the state policy, he said religious organizations must now be permitted to apply for and be eligible for state grants.