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The state of Missouri went too far in refusing to resurface a religiously affiliated preschool’s playground, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, in a case that some legal observers said didn’t live up to its hype in addressing a church’s access to public funding.

“The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution … and cannot stand,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts, who authored the majority opinion.

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Roberts was joined in full by three justices and in part by two others. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a concurring opinion, meaning that, overall, seven of the nine Supreme Court justices sided with Trinity Lutheran Church.

Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer centered on a religiously affiliated preschool’s application for state-funded tire shreds, which soften a playground’s surface and prevent injuries. Trinity Lutheran ranked fifth out of 44 applicants to the grant program, but the state had a policy of excluding churches.

“What the court did here is classify (Missouri’s scrap tire grant) as a general program that’s available to anybody and from which the church was singled out simply because it’s a church,” said Frederick Gedicks, a law professor at Brigham Young University. “The court says that violates the free exercise clause” of the Constitution.

The high-profile case was closely watched by people on both sides of contemporary debates over church-state separation, who said the ruling could be a major turning point in efforts to expand school voucher programs.

To read the full article on the Deseret News, click here