Religious organizations in Missouri can now apply for grant money from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Governor Eric Greitens reversed a previous prohibition that was based on a state constitutional amendment banning the use of state money by religious groups.
Separation of church and state.
"The First Amendment right, these protections for religious liberty, this prohibition against establishment of a religion by the government, has been so fundamental," says Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.
The constitutional guarantee is appreciated by both atheists and the religious.
"For me, I don't want the government to come in and tell me what I can preach, what I can't preach," says Pastor Gerald Powley with Byers United Methodist Church in Joplin.
But there's disagreement over applications of this constitutional issue.
"It is so easy to lose those protections," says Mittman.
"I think there's this great deal of paranoia that happens," says Powley.
Powley says churches help people, whether they're religious or not. Powley says giving taxpayer money to churches is not always a religious issue.
"If I had a playground, for safety issues, that needed to be resurfaced, it would not bother me to write a grant, or ask for money, from the state," says Powley.
"When our forefathers looked at history in Europe, where they had come from, and saw a long history and tradition of religious wars, of state involvement in religious doctrine, of churches coming under attack and being forced to change what they say or believe so they continue receiving government funding or government preference, our founders knew that religion was too important to ever let the government be involved," says Mittman.
The ACLU says the constitutional principle protecting freedom from religion and freedom of religion has been altered by Governor Greitens.
"He is ignoring the U.S Constitution and he is ignoring the Missouri Constitution," says Mittman.
But Pastor Powley says it's a matter of social justice. Powley says it hurts communities by not giving money to churches that help communities.
"We don't sit there and ask them their religious affiliation," says Powley.
There's no word if the Missouri ACLU will fight against this new grant money policy. However, the U.S. Supreme Court was set to consider whether a Columbia, Missouri Lutheran preschool should get state grant money for playground materials. The case was submitted during Missouri's previous grant policy. This morning, the ACLU recommended the Supreme Court no longer hear this case.
In a statement, the ACLU wrote, "The church now has everything it asked for from the state of Missouri. Missouri now agrees with the church. The church now has the ability to receive taxpayer dollars. The state of Missouri has not only reversed its policy protecting religious freedom, but has publicly ignored the Missouri Constitution. There’s no way the state of Missouri can ‘defend’ itself in court."
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