Greitens: Religious organizations can apply for state grants
By KATIE KULL
Apr. 14, 2017
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens reversed a rule on Thursday that prevents religious organizations and schools from receiving grant money from the state Department of Natural Resources.
It's a move that advocacy groups say could "blur the line" between church and state and raises questions about a state constitutional amendment prohibiting public money from being used for religious causes.
Greitens' new rule would allow religious groups and schools to receive money from grant programs for playground surfaces, school field trip transportation and recycling efforts.
The governor said in a Facebook video that the rule reversal is necessary to combat restrictions on people with religious beliefs.
"I'm here to fight for all Missourians, and that includes fighting for and defending people of faith who are too often under attack," he said.
But ACLU Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman called the new policy "dangerous."
"We're disappointed that the governor has reversed course and chosen to blatantly ignore the Missouri Constitution's long-standing commitment to religious freedom," he said in an emailed statement.
The change comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to consider a case between a Missouri Lutheran preschool and the natural resources department.
The Department of Natural Resources years ago denied a grant request from Trinity Lutheran Church for money to buy repurposed rubber for resurfacing its playground. Department rules stated that no religious group could receive the money because Missouri law says that state dollars can't be used to aid churches or religion.
The church contended that the state violated its free speech rights and equal protections under the law.
Greitens said in an emailed statement that the rule change isn't expected to affect the case, and the new rules will prevent such problems in the future.
But Americans United Legal Director Richard Katskee said there's a chance the Supreme Court case could be moot because Greitens effectively eliminated the case's active controversy. The church could now technically apply for the grant.
The governor's decision has been supported by religious groups including the Missouri Catholic Conference, Missouri Baptist Convention and the Epstein Hebrew Academy.