Thomas C. Berg, school of law professor, and students listen as the Minnesota Supreme Court hears the State of Minnesota v. Clarence Bruce Beaulieu in the Frey Moot Courtroom on April 1, 2014 at the School of Law in downtown Minneapolis.

Religious Liberty Clinic Files Brief in U.S. Supreme Court on First Amendment Case

Students and faculty working in the University of St. Thomas Religious Liberty Appellate Clinic filed an amicus brief last week in the U.S. Supreme Court on its current First Amendment case Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley.

The case involves exclusion of a church from a Missouri state program that provides funds to non-profit institutions to help them resurface their playgrounds using rubber from recycled tires. Trinity Lutheran Church, which operates a preschool and day care center, applied for funds because its current playground surface posed dangers to children who fell while playing. The church would have qualified for a grant, but the state excluded it solely because it was a church. Trinity argues that this discrimination against religion violates the First Amendment's protection for the free exercise of religion.

The St. Thomas brief, drafted by Luke Kane '18 and Professor Thomas Berg, was filed on behalf of several denominations and other religious organizations. The brief noted, in part:

“By its exclusion, the state has denied equal treatment with respect to one of government’s core functions: protection of the safety and health of persons within its jurisdiction. In a real sense, such an exclusion treats religious persons as less than equal citizens – as it would if the state were to deny other safety benefits such as police or fire protection. The children who attend petitioner’s preschool and daycare are entitled to the same eligibility for state safety benefits as are children who attend nonreligious institutions.... When a Lutheran child trips or falls on an ‘unforgiving’ surface, her head injury is no less serious than if she attended a nonreligious private school.”

Oral argument in the case will be in October, and the Supreme Court will likely decide the case in late 2016 or early 2017. Read the full brief here.

The Religious Liberty Appellate Clinic offers four to six law students each year the opportunity to draft briefs in important religious liberty cases, typically on behalf of national civil liberties and religious organizations filing as amicus curiae. The clinic is supervised by Professor Thomas Berg, one of the nation’s leading scholars of religious liberty, who has written appellate briefs in some 50 religious-liberty cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and in other federal and state courts. The clinic gives students an intensive experience in formulating, writing and refining appellate arguments, with review by experienced advocates, and in the strategy of framing arguments by amici, who typically present distinctive information or issues that may benefit the judges deciding the case.