Why the NYC church ban doesn’t make sense

February 17, 2012

As if we don’t need another church and state battle in the news, New York City churches were granted a 10 day reprieve to continue to meet in public school buildings. An ongoing legal battle for 17 years has some New York City churches at odds with the city government. The New York City Board of Education’s policy states that no permits will be granted “for the purpose of holding religious worship services, or otherwise using a school as a house of worship.” In other words, a church ban. However, NYC does allow community groups, including religious ones, to use its buildings.

The whole “separation of church and state” argument really doesn’t have merit. By allowing churches or religious groups to rent space from schools, that does not constitute an endorsement of religion. If all religions are allowed to rent space, then the freedom is not restricting nor hindering religious practices.  The New York City Department of Education has defended its decision because the city needs to protect the minds of “impressionable youth”.

Of course, the fear is that children will walk into schools and see a cross, hear a sermon, or have to see other religious icons. This is based on anxiety… fear. Simple guidelines can prevent such interactions.  Have churches only meet on weekends when children are not in school. The New York State Legislature recently introduced a bill that sought to allow churches to meet in schools, which some have criticized.

This whole debate doesn’t make sense.

There are schools in every state that allow churches and houses of worship into public schools, after hours. Schools everywhere rent out space and it is not a wide spread issue. Using good judgment here is key. You don’t allow outside groups to monopolize the school’s space. Besides, fees from renting space can help boost school budgets. The New York State Legislator bill can be broad but each school district can set its own policy, again, using good judgment. Or, New York City can create some boundaries for churches renting schools.

I grew up in a school system that allowed churches to rent the space. As I walked into school Monday morning, I didn’t see outside groups preaching or praying. When I finished lacrosse practice in the afternoon, I didn’t see any Bible studies meeting after hours.  Why? The school system used good judgement.

Have we (NYC, especially) lost a sense of good judgement? Apparently, we have.  This is why the NYC ban doesn’t make sense. Some have made this issue out to be a “war on religion” and that is simply not the case. In a society where we protect the religious freedom of everyone, we also protect the right from religion. I get that, but the NYC ban has gone overboard.

Let the churches meet and hold worship. Let the school system benefit from the rent and add it to the city budget.


Facebook Comments


  • Andy James February 17, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    As a pastor of a church with its own building in NYC, I may be a little biased here. However, I’m in agreement with the city’s decision. While all have the right to worship, the availability of public buildings for rental purposes is not a core right of our society – and that’s the real issue. If NYC wants to choose not to rent out its school buildings to religious groups, it should have the right to do so. If the city is forced to rent its buildings to churches, it could have broader consequences. What about other religious groups that meet at times when school is in session? A requirement to open up the schools to churches on Sundays might imply that these groups also must be accommodated, even at the expense of school activities.

  • Alan Rudnick February 20, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    Clearly, the priority is public education, then if groups fit into the school’s day, then groups can rent, including religious groups. IF religious groups cannot meet at a school during the day, then that is a cause of the nature of public education and not religious liberty.

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