Columbia preschool that went to Supreme Court for playground receives it

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COLUMBIA – After several years of legal battles that culminated in $884,000 worth of legal fees, Trinity Lutheran Church celebrated the opening of the new playground it constructed with a state grant.

Trinity Lutheran held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new, rubber playground surface Tuesday. The church used funds from the Missouri Department of Natural Resource’s (DNR) Playground Scrap Tire Surface Material grant.

"It's rewarding to see the kids finally have a nice playground," former Trinity Lutheran trustee Philip Glenn said.

The children who attend the church's preschool, the Child Learning Center, got to celebrate the occasion by playing on the rubber, despite the cold weather.

When the church applied for this grant in 2012 for its preschool, it placed fifth out of the 44 schools that applied; but the DNR denied funds to Trinity Lutheran because it is a religious organization and the DNR felt granting the funds would be a violation of separation of church and state.

Trinity Lutheran went through federal court and the appeals court before it took its case to the Supreme Court of the United States and won. In addition, former Governor Eric Greitens also reversed the state’s policy of refusing to use tax dollars to fund religious organizations.

"Never in my wildest dream would I have thought that a playground surface material would end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, but it is what it is and it had a major impact, so that's rewarding in itself, too," Glenn said.

After the Supreme Court ruling in 2017, which was largely in favor of Trinity Lutheran, the church received the grant.

"I never would have dreamed that it would be a seven to two vote in the Supreme Court when they're eking out five to four votes right now," Glenn said.

"This is going down in the history books-- in the Supreme Court history and will be referred to often," former Director of the Child Learning Center Gail Schuster said. "It's a real milestone to have been a part of this and to see it come to fruition."

The state had to cover all of the legal expenses accrued by Trinity Lutheran. The original price was about $884,000, but a judge ruled that was too high and dropped the price by about half.

"Even though it's taken a long time, and there were bumps in the road, things seemed to work out along the way to our advantage," Schuster said.

 

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