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Apr 3, 2014

Three Reasons Why NYC Should Let Schools Rent to Churches Regardless of Today's Ruling

New ruling overturns a ruling in favor of churches from 2012. |
Three Reasons Why NYC Should Let Schools Rent to Churches Regardless of Today's Ruling
Josh Liba / flickr

Today, a New York City appeals court ruled that churches can be banned from NYC public schools, which overturns a decision from 2012 that granted churches permission to rent schools for worship services when school is not in session.

Read the full story in Facts and Trends.

The judges of the Second Circuit Court write, "They may use the facilities to teach religion, read from and discuss the Bible, advocate their religious views, sing hymns, say prayers, and do all things that must be permitted under the rule of Good News Club," they wrote. "Such religions, it is true, may not use the school facilities for the conduct of religious worship services."

We polled on this a couple of years ago, looking at both Americans and New Yorkers.

The current Mayor, Democrat Bill Blasio, agrees with the majority of Americans.

At that time, I wrote about why schools should rent to churches. In light of today's developments, let me share three reasons schools should be open to churches when they are not in session:

Churches benefit communities

Schools and churches make their communities better and the public knows it. According to a 2011 Barna Research study:

Three-quarters of U.S. adults believe the presence of a church is "very" (53%) or "somewhat" positive (25%) for their community. In contrast, only one out of every 20 Americans believes the influence of a church is negative.

It seems odd for a municipality to ban something from public buildings that their constituents strongly view as positive.

The New York Law Department, however, disagrees, stating:

We view this as a victory for the City's school children and their families. The Department was quite properly concerned about having any school in this diverse City identified with one particular religious belief or practice.

Most Americans see churches as partners in the community, but the NYC school system sees churches as a threat rather than a benefit. They are mistaken.

Discriminating on the basis of the speech content is against our values

The NYC municipal government contends religious speech should be banned from public school buildings to avoid confusing our children. (Remember churches use the schools when school is not in session.) Yet, the Long Island public school I attended as a child had plenty of religions present--and NYC today has nearly every faith represented. Allowing individuals to worship in empty public buildings does not confuse children about religion. To the contrary, it affirms our commitment to religious freedom.

Father Richard John Neuhaus wrote against stripping religion from our institutions. Neuhaus believed religion is a public endeavor, not an enterprise best kept underground. I'm not one who believes in the war on religion by the secular elites, but it is hard not to see a problem with what Yale University scholar Stephen L. Carter called 'the culture of disbelief' in his book by the same name. The book, introduced to many by President Clinton, reminds us that banning public religion threatens the individual liberties of millions of Americans.

Religion-neutral is better than religion-hostile

Any constitutional concerns about church use of public school buildings can be answered by a religion-neutral approach. A government that is religion-neutral we will not discriminate based on the content of speech--even unpopular religious speech. Thus, I stand with my Muslim friends who wish to rent on Friday, my Jewish friends on Saturday, and my Christian friends on Sunday--all paying money to use space that belongs to us all.

The rationale that leads to a ban like the one enacted by New York City follows the principle that in order to avoid poisoning young minds, we must strip religion out of our lives, and essentially relegate it like pornography to the back of the store. Yet metro NYC includes a robust mixture of the cultural and religious milieu. Renting empty public buildings, with the income going to under-resourced schools, benefits many and imposes nothing.

We need to decide if religion is a danger to our culture that should be banned from the public square, or something to be valued and protected. I desperately pray it is the latter.

Posted:April 3, 2014 at 3:19 pm

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