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In One of His First Cases as Supreme Court Justice, Gorsuch Has Opportunity to Affirm Religious Liberty

Today, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch, and he will become the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court, filling the vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last year.

“ADF congratulates Neil Gorsuch, who will be the newest member of the high court and a natural successor to Justice Scalia,” said ADF President, CEO, and General Counsel Michael Farris. “His confirmation should surprise no one given the high praise he has received from people across the ideological spectrum. The American Bar Association gave him its highest rating, and his integrity, professional competence, and judicial demeanor have earned him respect from all quarters. ADF hopes that he will continue to interpret the Constitution as our founders intended and affirm our most fundamental freedom—religious liberty, which includes the right not to be discriminated against because of one’s religion.”

And Gorsuch will have the opportunity to do just that on April 19 when Alliance Defending Freedom argues Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer before the high court. This case, called “the term’s remaining marquee case” by Adam Liptak of the New York Times, will be one of the first cases that Gorsuch hears from the Supreme Court bench.

At the heart of Trinity Lutheran is the question: Can government deny religious institutions equal access to neutrally-available public benefits?

ADF is defending Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia against religious discrimination by the state of Missouri. Trinity Lutheran’s preschool program applied for a state reimbursement grant to resurface its playground with a pour-in-place rubber surface. And, according to the state’s criteria, it was highly qualified to receive it (ranking fifth out of 44 applicants, in fact). Yet the state denied the preschool’s application simply because it is run by a church.

But children’s safety is just as important on religious playgrounds as non-religious playgrounds, and children from the surrounding community often use the playground after school and on the weekends.

This case has “significance well beyond scrap tire remnants and preschool playgrounds” and has been called “one for the history books.”

Bill Mears of Fox News wrote that Trinity Lutheran may be the “most-watched social issue” currently before the court. And certainly many eyes will be on Gorsuch in particular as he hears what is arguably his first big case at the Supreme Court.

As Farris and ADF Senior Counsel Jim Campbell pointed out earlier this year, Gorsuch has decided many cases involving religious freedom. Perhaps most notable is his concurring opinion in Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius. “It is not for secular courts to rewrite the religious complaint of a faithful adherent” or to question the reasonableness of their convictions. A conscientious objection, Gorsuch wrote, is “a matter of faith [judges] must respect.”

In his history as a federal judge in the Tenth Circuit, he has proven to be a friend to religious liberty. We hope that his record continues at the Supreme Court, beginning with Trinity Lutheran.

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Trinity Lutheran involves real issues that will have practical effects for people of faith.  To stay up to date on the latest in this case and others affecting your religious freedom, sign up for our newsletter. 

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Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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