"Don't Make my Church Homeless"

02.16.12 | Ralph Kerr | Comments[2]

            This was the sign carried by some church goers in New York City after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld as “constitutional” a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) of the New York City Board of Education. This SOP prohibits churches in New York City from renting public schools to hold worship services on Sundays. As many as 60 churches have held worship services in schools in New York for several years.

            The 2 – 1 Court decision held that schools could be used to hold discussion of religious materials, which the court described as “content” but the schools could not be used for worship services, “expression,” which would express the point of view discussed in the religious materials.  Immediately after the court decision was announced the schools gave the churches their “eviction notice” effective almost immediately.

            The Court did take into consideration an earlier decision from 2001 when another court ruled in the Good News Clubs vs. Milford Central School District that public school classrooms could be used after school by Good News Clubs to conduct religious instruction. Subsequent to this decision school districts throughout New York State formulated school board policies that basically declared their campuses “open” or “closed.” Open meant any community groups i.e. churches, Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, etc. could use the school rooms after school simply by requesting their use. Closed means no community group can use the facilities for any purpose at anytime. Most public schools declared their campuses “Open.”

            This latest Court decision only affects New York City at this time and prohibits churches from using the public schools for “worship services.” This seems a very limited prohibition but as noted earlier removes many churches from the schools and forces them to find other places to hold their worship services. Other school districts across New York State are not currently impacted by this decision, but ultimately this decision may lead to other court decisions that could impact all schools in the State. New York City is governed by its own school board so even the State Education Department does not have authority in this matter.

            The Alliance Defense Fund has filed a preliminary injunction in the case that would let churches continue to worship in classrooms. Even if this injunction is approved it is only a temporary fix of the problem. The New York State Senate has passed legislation which would override the court decision however the Assembly Leader, Speaker Sheldon Silver has not agreed to put this legislation before his branch of the legislature nor has he agreed to write a companion bill that could possibly be negotiated with the Senate. Readers are urged to contact Speaker Silver’s office in Albany at 518-455-3791 to urge him to offer a companion bill now.

            There are multiple issues that arise from this decision but one that is critically important to The Teaching and Learning Institute (TLI Inc.). That issue is “INVOLVEMENT.” The history of this case shows that the Standard Operating Procedure that prohibits churches from meeting for worship in schools was originally prepared and approved by the school administration. When this administrative prohibition was originally challenged in Court it was turned aside by the Court because the Board of Education had not approved the SOP. Subsequent to this rejection by the Court the members of the Board of Education (7 people) approved the SOP and subsequently the Court found against the churches. The difference was the approval of the SOP by the seven people on the Board of Education. This is another example of the power and influence of a board of education. Our organization continues to advocate for people of faith to step up and get involved not only in their schools but particularly at the Board of Education level. Policies that impact not only the community but individual rights like these are made by the Board and Christians need to get involved.


Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 02.16.12 Darlene commented

You can almost predict that what happens in NYC will not stay in NYC. I wonder if we were Moslum or Budest if the same laws would apply. IF the government wants yo separate church from state it should be true for all religions, even the ones that hate our country. But they are allowed to worship wherever they please.

on 02.26.12 Don commented

Maybe the church should call itself an educational unit rather than a church, per say. That's what other religious groups are doing. They are teaching culture to our youth, but under it all is the guise of their religion. Some have offered to take students on tours of their mosques and are TEACHING our youth to get on their knees and pray to their god!

Christianity is an old religion and should be taught from its foundations as being historical matters. This would eliminate the scrutiny of it being specifically religious in nature. Think about it.