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Churches allowed to meet in NYC public schoolscomment (0)

July 12, 2012


A federal judge ruled on June 29 that churches and other faith groups can continue to meet in New York City public school buildings for worship services. The ruling followed a Feb. 12 deadline that banned the use of New York City schools by churches.

The courts lifted the ban in February while a judge reviewed the law. On June 29 Judge Loretta Preska of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted the churches a permanent injunction against the New York City Department of Education, determining the city’s policy of prohibiting worship violated the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. 

According to a study by LifeWay Research, two-thirds of Americans believe public schools should rent to churches and other community groups. 

After this study was released following the developments earlier in the year in New York City, officials from the State Board of Education in Alabama granted some insight into Alabama’s policy on this issue. 

According to Larry Craven, general counsel for the Alabama State Board of Education, in Alabama, churches are treated the same as other entities when it comes to access to public school property. 

“If a school system has in place a policy of allowing any entity the opportunity to rent space from the church for a meeting, then it must allow churches of all denominations to do the same,” he said. “Under these circumstances the denial of access to any organization will be viewed as discriminatory.”

The study by LifeWay found that 65 percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement “public schools should rent to churches and other community groups,” while 16 percent responded that schools “should rent to other community groups but not churches.” 

Additionally, 12 percent believe “public schools should not rent to any churches or community groups.” One percent believe “public schools should rent to churches but not other community groups.”

New York state residents are less likely to embrace a law allowing churches to meet in schools, although a plurality (49 percent) there still believe public schools should rent to churches and other community groups. Twenty-seven percent believe “public schools should rent to other community groups but not to churches.” Nineteen percent believe “public schools should not rent to any churches or community groups” while 1 percent said they should rent only to churches. The New York State sample included 123 respondents and the sample was not large enough to break out New York City residents.

This assessment of whether churches renting space in schools are prevalent in Alabama is not assessed at a state level. “In Alabama, the State Department of Education does not have a record of renting of schools by churches,” said Malissa Valdes, public information manager for the State Department of Education. She said the local board district offices maintain that data. 

The reactions to the January survey were in response to the question: “New York City is no longer allowing churches to rent space in any public schools out of concern that a school would be identified with one particular religious belief or practice. Which of the following statements best describes your opinion?”

LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer said the ban had considerable implications for churches in urban contexts and new startup congregations. “Historically schools have been welcoming locations to churches, especially in larger urban centers where schools are in the heart of the communities,” he said. “A trend of banning church use of public schools could have significant implications.”

According to the study, there are several statistically significant differences between subgroups of Americans. 

Americans who live in a large city are less supportive of church and community group use of public schools, with 21 percent saying “public schools should rent to other community groups, but not churches.” Americans who “never” attend a worship service are the least likely (32 percent) to agree that churches should be able to meet in public schools and the most likely (39 percent) to select “public schools should rent to other community groups, but not churches.” 

(BP, TAB)

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