NYC Schools Evict Churches

by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell on February 25, 2012

Christian Post: “Empty Buildings: NYC Kicks Churches Out of SchoolsNYC schools evict churches.

Since the days of frontier America, churches and schools have had a tradition of sharing building space. After all, school’s out on Sunday. Thousands of churches all over the country rent—that is, pay money for—space in public schools on Sundays. But now, in New York City, that will change. The city’s Department of Education sued to end the practice, and, since the Supreme Court opted not to hear the case, a ruling by Judge Pierre Leval in the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals stands, effectively evicting over 50 churches from the rental space. A temporary restraining order later delayed the eviction for the Bronx Household of Faith—the church named in the suit—but the rest of the churches have to go.1

Leval explained, saying such rentals made public schools look like “state-sponsored Christian churches . . . but not synagogues or mosques.”

Leval said allowing churches to rent unused school space showed an “unintended bias in favor of Christian religions” because most Christians worship on Sunday. “Jews and Muslims generally cannot use school facilities for their services because the facilities are often unavailable on the days that their religions principally prescribe for services,”2 Leval explained, saying such rentals made public schools look like “state-sponsored Christian churches . . . but not synagogues or mosques.”

Alliance Defense Fund attorney Jordan Lorence said, “Churches and other religious groups should be allowed to meet in public buildings on the same terms as other community groups and they’re being denied that in New York City.”3 The Supreme Court has previously ruled, after all, that public schools allowing groups to use their facilities may not exclude religious ones.4

The decision will have economic consequences, as the city’s schools already struggle to pay their bills. Many of the churches have purchased furniture for teachers’ lounges, video equipment for schools, and a variety of gifts of appreciation. Not only will those niceties for the schools now end, but the rent money will also end, creating even tighter budgets for the already strapped school system. (Of course, a considerable sum has likely already been expended by the Department of Education to pursue this legal crusade against churches for the past 17 years.)

New York City is the only place in the country where this action has been taken, but churches meeting in schools around the nation are concerned about the precedent. New York’s legislature may step in to settle the matter, as the State Senate has just passed a bill specifically allowing churches equal access.5 If the bill becomes law, of course, new legal challenges could surface.

People advocating elaborate measures to expunge religion from government often point to Thomas Jefferson’s letter assuring Danbury Baptists the First Amendment built “a wall of separation between church and state.”6 James Madison was instrumental in writing the First Amendment’s “establishment clause” guaranteeing Congress would “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”7 Yet Presidents Jefferson and Madison attended church services meeting regularly in the House of Representatives. Participation was voluntary, not established by the government, and that action on their part demonstrated their understanding of the establishment clause. Jefferson’s letter is the banner of “separation” extremists, and Madison authored the “establishment clause.” Perhaps New York City’s Department of Education and the judicial powers involved should look more closely at the true intent of these Founding Fathers and the clear precedent they set for acceptable use of public buildings.

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