NBC appeared to have a hard time accepting that the Supreme Court might side with a church in a controversial case involving state funding.
“The question: Can states refuse to give money to churches even when it’s for something that doesn’t involve worship,” anchor Lester Holt said during NBC Nightly News, referring to the case, Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer.
The US Supreme Court heard oral argument on the case Wednesday and, when questions by the justices indicated they may side with the church, NBC’s coverage seemed shocked by the idea.
“When Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri, heard about a program for resurfacing playgrounds using rubber from scrapped tires, it applied for a state grant at the preschool it runs,” Justice Correspondent Pete Williams said in the NBC report. “But the state said ‘no’ because its constitution says ‘no state money can be given in aid of any church.’”
Williams reported that the church then sued the state claiming it was being discriminated against because of religion. But the reporter cited other states with similar laws, implying there was no legal standing for the claims.
“Thirty eight other states have laws like Missouri’s. Their defenders say they don’t interfere with religious practices, they just choose not to subsidize them,” Williams said.
Trinity Church’s attorney, David Cortman, noted however that the church “was not seeking anything preferable or favorable treatment, it was seeking equal treatment here.”
The report by Williams included an interview of Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
“If Trinity Lutheran wins this case, it will be a radical change from the way we’ve always treated religious institutions in this country,” Lynn declared.
“But a majority on the court seemed to side with the church including the newest justice, Neil Gorsuch,” Williams reported, seeming to be appalled with the idea.
“Elena Kagan said ‘this is a clear burden on a constitutional right,’ not to be discriminated against. Stephan Breyer asked, how refusing to give the grant money is any different to declining to give churches police and fire protection, or including religious students in community-wide vaccination programs,” he continued.
To his relief, Ruth Bader Ginsburg “appeared to be one of the few siding with the state, saying the constitution’s ‘framers didn’t want tax money used to maintain church buildings or property,” Williams noted.
“Missouri’s governor now says the state will no longer automatically turn down requests for money from churches,” Williams concluded, as if this was a bad thing. “Even so, the court appears headed for a decision reducing the wall between church and state.”
The Media Research Center’s NewsBusters noted that it was “not shocking” that the Supreme Court would side with anyone being discriminated against due to religious practice.
“What is shocking,” NewsBusters reported, “is NBC’s open displeasure with the possibly that the court would side with the church, especially since the majority might include some of the liberal justices.”
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