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NYC Schools to Churches: The Bell Tolls for Thee

New York City is banning Sunday school, figuratively speaking. From the NYT:

Because of a recent federal court ruling that upheld a city policy of not allowing religious services in public schools, dozens of congregations throughout New York have been told that they must move; next Sunday will be the last time they will be allowed to rent space in schools for services. […]

Opponents say that the congregations are violating the separation of church and state, causing confusion among children who attend the schools, and that they are trying to impose their beliefs on others in a city known for its religious and cultural diversity.

No group, religious or not, deserves subsidized rent on the public dime. Costs need to be covered, rental rates should be fair, and selection impartial. Tenants are also well advised to be aboveboard about their activities. If these conditions are met, Via Meadia High would welcome everyone from the Knights of Columbus and Rotary Club to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So should any New York public school.

The church ban is madness. It’s also shortsighted: religious congregations are irreplaceable community assets. They help local residents build stronger families, promote charity, and strengthen community involvement—all of which, not incidentally, are good foundations for student performance in school.

This is a terrible sign for the future of New York. It’s part of an utterly misguided attempt to cleanse any trace of religion from public life. The state senate and assembly will soon be debating the issue. Let us hope cooler heads and less blinkered viewpoints prevail.

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  • Kris

    “Opponents say that the congregations are violating the separation of church and state, causing confusion among children who attend the schools”

    Not to mention that they leave cooties behind!

  • Cromwell

    Speaking as a member of Park Slope Presbyterian, the church discussed in this article, I am happy that the congregation is dissociating itself from the rotten husk of the blue state social model represented by the NYC “public” “school” system. It can die just fine on its own without us. I would like to think that the three “security” “guards” the school posted there every sunday will no longer be required, thus saving some money for the much put upon NYC taxpayer.

  • Corlyss

    The churches should appeal. If they are not allowed to rent the premises as other activities do, that’s unequal application of the law.

  • Kris

    WRM: “NYC Schools to Churches: The Bell Tolls for Thee”

    Corlyss@3: “The churches should appeal.”

    Alright, alright, I’m leaving; no need for the bum’s rush!

  • Jim.

    This is just what the current elites of this country want — to get rid of religion, in a deliberate twisting of the first amendment.

    There will come a point when people of faith, and the churches they belong to, will just have to ignore the mandates of these anti-religious bigots, and do what’s right no matter what the consequences might be.

  • Mrs. Davis

    I remember moving at the age of 11 and attending Sunday services at my new elementary school while the church was being built. It struck me as odd and wrong at the time. I still feel the same way. The wall between church and state should be tall and strong.

    What is wrong here is not that the state will not allow the church to operate their school from its schools, but that the state is operating schools and the church is not.

  • WigWag

    “This is a terrible sign for the future of New York. It’s part of an utterly misguided attempt to cleanse any trace of religion from public life.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    Really? How terrible a sign is it? Is New York working assiduously to cleanse absolutely every trace of religion from public life?

    The point of view expressed by Professor Mead in this post (as well as the views expressed by his amen choir in the comment section) is simply ludicrous.

    Suppose one of those congregations that want to rent space in New York schools for their worship services is an Islamist sect cleaving to the perspective of the Muslim Brotherhood or, even worse, the Salafists. Should they be allowed to worship in public schools?

    What about if the group that wants to rent space for worship services is an Orthodox Jewish Group that insists on segregating women during worship services or a Hasidic group that bars menstruating women from worship services all together; should New York be forced to rent them space?

    Suppose the congregation wishing to rent space in the New York schools is a renegade Episcopalian congregation recently evicted from their Church because they refuse to accept the ordination of women or the authority of Katharine Jefferts Schori. Perhaps this group has chosen (as several Episcopal congregations have) to look to a Ugandan Prelate for spiritual leadership; that would be the same Uganadan Prelate who believes that anal intercourse should be punished by death or life imprisonment in a Ugandan dungeon. Should New York be forced to rent space to these Episcopal renegades who seek leadership from a man who wants homosexuals murdered rather than a woman who believes that homosexuals should be allowed to marry in church?

    Perhaps worst of all is the prospect of actually having to rent space to Presbyterians. Is there a more anti-Semitic Christian sect in America than certain elements in the Presbyterian Church? Suppose for a moment the Presbyterian congregation seeking to rent space is led by Minister Craig Hunter. At a recent Presbyterian conference Minister Hunter said,

    “Greed and injustice is a cancer at the very core of Zionism.” Some of Minister Hunter’s colleagues recently tweeted an article proclaiming, “Jewish power + Jewish hubris = moral catastrophe of epic proportions.” For more on the growing anti-Semitism at the core of the Presbyterian Church go here,

    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2012/02/09/presbyterian-anti-semitism-anti-zionism-israel/

    Perhaps Professor Mead can tell us why he feels that New York should be obligated to rent one of its school auditoriums to Reverend Hunter and or other bigoted members of his like-minded congregation.

    Obviously if New York rents space to any religious group, even those groups whose religious views are, to use a football analogy, between the 20 yard lines, it has to agree to rent space to any religious group regardless of how outrageous its views are. Is this really the best way to promote social comity?

    There are about ten thousand places in New York where religious groups can rent space other than public buildings; they can rent space in restaurants, pubs, catering halls, theaters, hotels, motels, or congregant’s basements. As a student of history, surely Professor Mead understands why Thomas Jefferson was so staunch in his insistence that religion and government be separate.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that if New York continues its policy of refusing to rent space for religious worship, religion is not going to dry up and float away in the wind.

    The idea that New York’s policy will promote the cleansing of any “trace of religion from public life” is just laughable.

  • Jbird

    wigwag: woah woah woah. Huge difference between the PCUSA and “Presbyterians”. The mainline went liberal over 100 years ago along with the Princeton Seminary. As you may or may not be willing to acknowledge, anti-antisemitism is a feature, not a glitch of modern liberalism. I can line a 1,000 Presbyterians from the PCA and the OPC who would be glad to repudiate whole swaths of the PCUSA’s practices and preaching. Besides, I doubt the PCUSA needs any space from the Public Schools, the courts allowed them to take the old churches away from congregations (the one’s who built and funded the churches) when they left the denomination. This despite the fact that the one’s who left were maintaining the historical teachings of the denomination over the Rockefellers and Pear S Bucks of the world.

    – As an aside, renting space from public schools and financially supporting them with that revenue is actually controversial in many churches. I was a member of a church that moved into a public school in VA and the vote was rather contentious. It’ll be interesting to see how that loss of revenue affects the schools in NY.

  • WigWag

    Fair enough, Jbird, but I did not say that the entire Presbyterian Church reeked of anti-Semitism. As a matter of fact, to repeat an old cliché, some of my best friends are Presbyterian. What I criticized were “certain elements in the Presbyterian Church.” I specifically mentioned the antics of the anti-Semitic Reverend Craig Hunter.

    The Presbyterian Church USA sanctions the Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN). Until recently the IPMN sponsored a Facebook Page that contained a sermon by Reverend Hunter entitled “God is a Slow Learner.” The Reverend’s sermon kicked off the 2010 IPMN Conference. During the sermon, Reverend Hunter remarked that “greed and injustice is a cancer at the very core of Zionism.” IPMN’s Facebook Page also contained a cartoon of President Obama wearing weighty Jewish star earrings to suggest Jewish control of American leaders, a common theme on the site. The IPMN-PCUSA has posted articles that accuse Jews of controlling Hollywood, the media and American politics – and blaming Israel for the American housing and economic crisis.” Interestingly as soon as Jewish leaders began bringing this anti-Semitism to light, IPMN took its Facebook Page down.

    Obviously, IPMN doesn’t represent all or even most Presbyterians; lunatics on all sides of the political spectrum can be found amongst any religious group. But while most Presbyterians may not agree with IPMN’s views, the group is sanctioned by the Presbyterian General Assembly and Presbyterian leaders have not been particularly assertive in describing the IPMN as what it is; anti-Jewish.

    My point is that if Professor Mead’s position was to prevail, New York would have no choice but to rent space to Reverend Hunter and his congregation were they to ask (as it happens, his pulpit is in Texas). It is obvious to me at least, that this would not be a good thing. Why not let Reverend Hunter and his bigoted congregation worship their God on private property? Once New York rents to one religious group, it has to rent to all comers, even the crazies.

    That’s why New York’s policy is right and Professor Mead is wrong.

  • WigWag

    “Via Meadia High would welcome everyone from the Knights of Columbus and Rotary Club to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So should any New York public school.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    Good for Professor Mead; it surely is ecumenical of him to be willing to rent space to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

    I wonder whether he would also be willing to rent space to Jeremiah Wright or Louis Farrakhan. Surely Professor Mead must know that if New York follows his lead and rents space for the worship services of the “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster” that it will have no choice but to rent space for worship services led by Jeremiah Wright or Louis Farrakhan should they come asking.

    I suspect that many people would find the prospect troubling; I certainly do. Does Professor Mead truly believe that those of us who think it’s better to have religious groups rent private space for their worship services so that this troubling outcome can be avoided are attempting to obliterate “every trace of religion from the public square?”

    My question to him is exactly whose point of view is blinkered?

  • Jbird

    The followup question should then be, if NY is barred from renting to religious organizations because the “crazies” might move in, should they be allowed to rent to anyone? Seems to me every sort of group has a crazy wing they may or may not want to rent space too.

  • Jim.

    New York jurisprudence take note! These new points of law are to be herewith observed as sacred:

    – Anyone who disagrees with WigWag is to be outlawed!
    – Anyone who does not agree with WigWag with sufficient alacrity or vociferousness is to be outlawed as well!
    – Anyone who does pays insufficient attention to causes important to WigWag must be outlawed!

    Thus has spoken the mighty WigWag!

  • WigWag

    Jbird, I think that not all disagreements are of equal concern. The Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause are rooted in the understanding that religious dusputes can be particularly contentious. This was true during the lifetimes of the founders of our country and is even more true today. The solution they proposed was elegant and simple and even more importantly it worked. Both religion and our unique national ethic thrived because Jefferson and Madison were so insistent that the religious and goverental spheres should be separate. America will not be a more unified, happy or devout country if Jeremiah Wright is permitted to preach “God Damn America” from the auditorium of a New York City public school. The result is that our country will be more divided, more angry and arguably less devout as a people. This is especially true in light of the fact that there are thousands of other places in New York City where religious groups can worship.

    Disagree if you like; disagreement is the spice of life. But Professor Mead thinks so little of this argument that he doesn’t merely think it’s wrong, he thinks all people who make this argument are trying to extinguish religion from the public square. He called this point of view “blinkered”. It’s his failure to recognize the cogency of the opposing view, even if he disagrees with it, that seems “blinkered” to me.

  • Mrs. Davis

    When WigWag and I agree, it should at least make you pause to wonder why.

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