Federal Takings

Arent Fox's Eminent Domain & Property Rights Practice

Federal Takings

US Supreme Court Rules for Missouri Church in Civil Liberties Case


US Supreme Court Rules for Missouri Church in Civil Liberties Case

On June 26, the US Supreme Court sided with a Missouri church in a closely watched First Amendment case, ruling that a church cannot be excluded as the recipient of a government program simply because it is a religious organization. The decision can be found here.

Appellate leader Thor Hearne and attorney Stephen S. Davis of Arent Fox LLP filed an amicus brief in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Pauley on behalf of the National Association of Evangelicals. Mr. Hearne and Mr. Davis, who were joined on the brief by University of Missouri law school Professor Carl Esbeck, successfully argued that non-sectarian benefits, such as rubber pellets for a playground, is not prohibited by the Missouri Constitution and that, if the Missouri Constitution is read to prohibit a church from participating (as the lower court found), the Missouri Constitution violates the Free Exercise Claus of the First Amendment. Arent Fox’s brief can be found here.

Writing for the seven-member majority, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. held Missouri’s policy “expressly discriminates against otherwise eligible recipients by disqualifying them from a public benefit solely because of their religious character” and that the policy “puts Trinity Lutheran to a choice: It may participate in an otherwise available benefit program or remain a religious institution.” Chief Justice Roberts held, “the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.” The majority included Justices Kennedy, Alito, Kagan, Thomas, Gorsuch and Breyer. Justices Breyer, Thomas, and Gorsuch filed concurring opinions and Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg dissented.

Arent Fox’s Appellate group has earned a reputation for aggressively and effectively managing high-stakes, precedent-setting appeals that protect our clients’ interests. Our goal with every case is to devise the most successful and innovative appellate strategy for clients facing complex legal and business challenges.


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