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Why the Supreme Court Ruling Is an Opportunity for NYC Christians

Why the Supreme Court Ruling Is an Opportunity for NYC Christians

As churches—including my own—are forced to find new places to meet, we've been challenged to react with love.

On Sunday mornings in the heart of Park Slope, Brooklyn, a small yet bustling farmers' market draws shoppers to the sidewalk outside of William Alexander Middle School (MS 51) on 5th Avenue. Even on a cold winter morning, as the browsing patrons move a little more slowly around the wooden tables, the vegetables sit vibrant in the morning light. You can taste free samples of several varieties of the best apples from Upstate New York.

Halfway down the block, near the side entrance of the school, you can hear the squeak of shoes stopping fast on the basketball court of the school gym. The youth basketball league of the 78th Precinct uses the gym when it is too cold to play outside.

If you are there at the right time, you may also hear the strains of a cello or piano drifting out from the school auditorium. Give it a few more minutes and you will faintly hear voices singing. It is the sound of a church preparing for worship. This is my church, where I am a pastor and where my family attends. By 10:30 a.m. all three groups are using the school's property. Families and friends fill the church, the gym, and the sidewalk outside of MS 51 for weekly sustenance of mind, body, and soul. It is a peaceful coexistence, each group quietly acknowledging the other, asking questions, slowly getting to know each other's stories.

Last Monday morning, December 5th, word spread quickly, especially in the circles of New York City clergy, that the Supreme Court had decided not to the hear the case of Bronx Household of Faith vs. New York City Department of Education. By letting the appellate court's ruling stand, the Court ensured that in early 2012, over sixty churches that rent space for their weekly worship gatherings in public schools will have to move. One of them is ours.

MS 51 has hosted our church at a crucial time in its growth. What began as a small home group five years ago grew into a larger Wednesday night prayer and worship evening, and then blossomed into a Sunday worship service two years ago. I remember walking the neighborhood looking for space until my feet ached. As a new church with a small budget, we quickly learned just how high a premium is charged for meeting spaces large enough for a growing congregation. Our options were very limited. When we learned we were going to be able to meet in the school auditorium, it was an answer to prayer.


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Displaying 1–5 of 26 comments

Howard Freeman

February 15, 2012  8:07am

(2/2) Likewise, here in NYC, there was all-but-total silence from large, white, Christian organizations such as the Episcopal Dioecese, the Catholic Archdiocese, and the National Council of Churches. Also, some notable influential churches had meek responses. Some churches and organizations were impotent in their help. Others were kittens when they should have been lions. We let down our brothers.

Howard Freeman

February 15, 2012  8:06am

Now that we New Yorkers have seen churches removed from schools, a couple things are evident to me: folks like Caleb and those directly affected have taken the high ground, and rightly so. I recall a Korean pastor in Queens pointing out that the Church thrives under persecution. This is true, and voices like his and Caleb's inspire me. But they are the voices of those directly affected. The other thing is that there are voices who are not directly affected who have been largely silent, or overly intellectual. Who cares if it's the "court" or the "school board" or the neighborhood deli owner who blocks churches' ability to rent space from public schools? Those arguments are academic and best left for seminary or law school. Christians not directly affected should speak up for their brothers and sisters. (1/2)


December 20, 2011  2:31pm

The author of this article seems to think that the courts have somehow forbidden churches from meeting in public schools. This is erroneous. It may or may not be true that the local school administrators would like to continue allowing the church to meet in their building, but it is their superiors on the School Board who have made this decision. The only role of the courts has been to say that the decision is not discriminatory and thus allowable. In fact, it is the opposite decision (in favor of the churches) that would have been "judicial fiat," in that it would have been a court overturning the decision of an elected body. If you live in NYC and vote for the school board, then the people who have made this decision are your elected representatives. Don't blame the courts for that.

Original Anna

December 20, 2011  2:42am

Seems to me that the supreme court is interferring with religion and the right of a person to profess their religion. Since the churches are renting they are renters and the schools are leasers, a contractural agreement between two entities, you know, a business deal. What a renter does in the space they are renting is their business not the governments unless they are doing illegal activity, and as far as I know, praying and worshiping in a rented space is not illegal. It's like paying for a permit to have a party in the city park, paying gives permission for the payor to use the park and is at that point legal until they cause violence or sell drugs, you know, actually break the law. Public property is paid for by all, even by Christians and should be available to Christians especially if they pay for the priviledge of using the public property.


December 18, 2011  8:22pm

excellent comments here I wonder what more court rulings will be brought up and evidence that there is no real CONFLICT for schools to house members of a church.


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