The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a closely watched case Wednesday whose outcome will determine whether states have to give religious schools equal access to certain types of taxpayer money.
The justices will hear a challenge from Trinity Lutheran Church in the midwestern city of of Columbia, Missouri. The church maintains its exclusion from a state program that provides money for ground-up tires that are used to cushion school playgrounds is discriminatory and violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution.
The state constitutions of Missouri and about three dozen other states prohibit spending public funds on church schools or other religious organizations.
If the high court rules in favor of the church, Michael Bindas of the Institute for Justice, which supports the church, says it could result in a major shift in the law on churches and public funding.
"It has the potential to remove one of the last legal clouds hanging over school choice," Bindas said.
The possibility of the the high court ruling in the church's favor has raised concerns among groups of public school teachers and other opponents of vouchers and other forms of public financial aid for private schools.
Last week, Missouri's new Republican governor, Eric Greitens, added an element of uncertainty to the case when he directed state agencies to allow religious organizations to have access to taxpayer funds for playgrounds and other purposes.
Citing the new state policy, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union urged the court to dismiss the case. The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the church, said the court should decide the issue, arguing the state's latest position on the issue could be reversed.
The case, which considers the restrictions of religious liberty under the U.S. Constitution, is one of the most significant before the Supreme Court in its current term. It will also be the biggest test for the court's newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, who was appointed by President Donald Trump.