Pea gravel. The Supreme Court of the United States this week contemplates a dilemma we should not face in civilized times. Justices will decide whether the same constitution used to protect foreigners from religious-based discrimination might also help American preschoolers avoid injuries on a playground.
In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, the court will decide whether Christian children in Missouri should endure dangerous playgrounds because of the religious beliefs of their parents. It is hard to believe this ugly practice of state-mandated, content-based discrimination survived to reach the country’s court of last resort.
Imagine if state laws promoted the Ku Klux Klan’s fear of immigrants by mandating state discrimination against people on a basis of their religious beliefs. Imagine if states could treat secular people with the favor of financial aid while rejecting others because of their family’s religion. These are not hypothetical considerations but the key elements of Trinity v. Comer.
The First Amendment prevents governments from acknowledging or acting on religious content, traditions, practices or beliefs. It says government shall neither make laws respecting establishments of religion nor interfere with the free exercise thereof. On matters of religion, the state shall remain agnostic – effectively blind to the beliefs of individuals and groups. Because of the First Amendment, government should not even concern itself with the religious beliefs of individuals and organizations.