Included in the White House’s Build Back Better bill—currently on life support, but possibly to be revised and revived—is funding for preschools and daycare centers, both for renovations and to help parents cover tuition costs. As written, the bill would limit the ability of schools affiliated with religious institutions to receive these monies. Mitchell Rocklin and Howard Slugh argue that such limitations are discriminatory and ill-conceived:
Several provisions of the bill as currently drafted would prevent religious schools from receiving benefits. For example, . . . something as simple as celebrating Jewish holidays might result in a school’s complete exclusion. . . . One section makes childcare providers located in houses of worship ineligible for grants aimed at renovating their facilities. A second provision prohibits funds from being used to renovate facilities “in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission.” At the very least, this would exclude any childcare program housed in a synagogue, mosque, or church.
The First Amendment does not require the government to discriminate against religious people or to treat them like second-class citizens. . . . The Constitution does not give the government license to exclude religious people from generally available benefits because of their faith—in fact, it prohibits such discrimination.
The Supreme Court dealt with a similar issue in the case of Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer. The plaintiff, a preschool located on the premises of Trinity Lutheran Church, applied to a Missouri program that offered grants to help make playgrounds safer for children. The state determined that the school qualified for the program. In fact, it decided that the school was one of the most deserving recipients in the state. Unfortunately, however, the state denied the school’s application because it refused to allow schools located in churches to participate.
Missouri claimed that it could exclude the school in order to maintain a separation between church and state. The Supreme Court rejected this argument.