Last week Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office issued a good opinion in support of religious liberty.
The opinion has to do with publicly-funded grants offered to private organizations in Russellville.
In short, the City of Russellville collects tax revenue in order to fund grants for private organizations conducting activities that promote tourism–such as competitions and sporting events.
Questions have arisen concerning whether or not the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitutions prohibits religious organizations from receiving these grants in order to conduct secular events that do not have a religious element.
The A.G. writes,
Simply providing this funding to a sectarian (religious or church) group for the secular events . . . would not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Indeed, declaring a particular sectarian group ineligible for the funding based on that group’s religious status would likely violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
In writing the opinion, the Attorney General’s office cites a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court: Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer.
In that case, a Missouri preschool was denied a state grant to make safety improvements to the preschool’s playground. The state denied the grant simply because the preschool is affiliated with a church. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the state could not refuse to award the grant to a qualifying organization on this basis.
Attorney General Rutledge’s opinion underscores that state and local government cannot and should not discriminate against religious organizations.