The Supreme Court jumps into a playground fight over a phony war on religion

It was a manufactured controversy, cooked up by conservative interest groups that are hoping to chip away at constitutional provisions in 39 states restricting taxpayer money from going to churches.

.. The complaint became irrelevant last week when the state’s new governor, Eric Greitens, reversed Missouri’s position and said he would allow religious organizations to compete for such grants.

.. Sonia Sotomayor asked Layton: If representatives of the state “are not willing to fight this case, are they manufacturing adversity by appointing you?”

.. It was about interest groups whose business model depends on perpetuating the culture wars trying to frighten people into thinking Christianity is under siege. It was a springtime version of the annual “war on Christmas.”

.. Michael Farris, CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Trinity in the case, was fairly straightforward about his motives, telling reporters in the plaza that “there’s a broad concern among religious people in this country that we’re becoming second-class citizens.”

.. Layton told the justices that Missouri in 1820 adopted language based on Thomas Jefferson’s 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which said that “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.”

.. What has changed now? Nothing — except the rise of interest groups (on both sides) that justify their existence and boost their fundraising with such controversies.

.. The goal this time: to roll back restrictions on public money going to churches. An article in the conservative National Review argued that “a victory for Trinity Lutheran would fundamentally alter the landscape of school choice.”

.. Eventually, though, he admitted that “why we’re here in the first place is the Missouri state constitutional provision” — the one saying no public money may be used “in aid of any church.”

.. So that’s what it’s about: Invalidating dozens of state constitutional provisions keeping public money out of churches. “There are 39 states with constitutional amendments like the one Missouri has.