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Religious Freedom Wins In New York

Religious freedom is not just under attack in Germany; New York City has also been conducting whatever the secular equivalent is of a crusade or a jihad to win the “freedom” to discriminate against religious groups who want to rent city schools for worship services on Sunday.

In the US, at least, the courts are siding with the cause of freedom; a federal judge has stopped the city of New York from turning religious groups into second class organizations. Blinded by secularist bigotry and self-righteousness, the city’s legal department appears determined to waste scarce taxpayer money by appealing the decision.

Note that religious groups are not asking for any special privileges. It has long been New York City policy to rent out empty space in public schools on weekends or other times when the schools are not being used to various civic groups. The groups are charged a rent that is determined by the city.

This is good policy. It brings in revenue from city buildings that are otherwise unoccupied, and it makes life easier for various non-profit and civic groups in a city where space is at a premium. Arts groups, gay rights groups, scouting groups and other organizations are, as they should be, perfectly free to apply for space and to be considered on equal terms.

But militant secularists want to draw the line and say there is just one thing you can’t do in a New York public school: pray. Under current policy religious groups can use the space for “discussion groups”, but they are not allowed to worship God (or, in some cases, the gods).

So far as Via Meadia knows, prayer causes no damage to school buildings. It leaves no visible stains to afflict the unbelieving. Prayer is doubly protected by the Constitution; it is protected as free speech and as the free exercise of religion.

The religious groups are not asking for a lower rent than other groups pay. They are not asking for preferential consideration — to jump to the head of the line when multiple users want a particular space. They are not asking the City of New York to do one single thing for them that it would not do for the Association of American Atheists or the Audubon Society.

But addled by a false concept of what religious freedom means, cockamamie bureaucrats and officials in New York think it their duty to stop small congregations — many immigrants, most composed largely of poor people — from enjoying the same rights that other New Yorkers have.

After this clear cut defeat in federal court, there’s a serious question to ask officials in New York: how much more of the people’s money do you propose to spend in an effort to deny people their constitutional rights?


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  • WigWag

    Professor Mead is at it again; he makes an argument that he surely must know is an exaggeration but he hopes his readers are too blinkered to call him on it. The ruling by the Court in Germany on circumcision and the decision by New York City to appeal a lower court ruling that forbids the city from refusing to rent city space to religious groups have nothing in common. Conflating the two as being some kind of evidence as of an equal animus to religion might convince a credulous few but it won’t convince anyone with a modicum of intelligence.

    Both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution forbid the city from favoring one religion over another. If they rent to one religious group they have to rent to all.

    If the Court ruling stands and the Nation of Islam comes along asking to rent space, the City will have to agree. We will face the prospect of acolytes of Louis Farrakhan preaching from the lectern in school auditoriums some of their favorite verses from the Hadith; including the one suggesting that a heavenly future depends on Muslims killing Jews.

    Sunni Muslim Imams will be free to use City schools to
    preach that the Shia are apostates and that Hindus are heathens.

    The likes of Obama’s former pastor, Reverend Wright will be free to use New York City public schools to preach that Jews are responsible for the drug trade and the enslavement of African Americans and he will be able to use the public schools as a venue for disseminating his beliefs about why God should “damn” America.

    If New York City rents space to even one religious group, it will also have to rent space to Reverend Terry Moran should he come asking; he’s the religious leader who included the burning of the Koran as part of a religious observance. It would also be constitutionalt required to rent space to Reverend Fred Phelps if he submitted an application. Reverend Phelps led demonstrations at the military funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq. He claimed the soldiers died as God’s punishment of the United States for it’s tolerance of gay Americans.

    Whether the Constitution requires New York City to rent space for religious observances is a complicated question about which reasonable people can disagree. What is not complicated is the reality that if New York rents to one group it will have to rent to all.

    There’s a reason that Thomas Jefferson and our other founders wanted to avoid entangling the State with religion. Professor Mead’s post suggests he thinks Jefferson’s reasons were trivial.

    When it comes to Mead v Jefferson, I think I will side with the man from Monticello rather than the man from Jackson Heights.

  • Alex Scipio

    Well, Dr Mead, you can add denial of 2nd Amendment right to the denial of 1st Amendment rights in NYC, and in just about all Blue states. And our rights to pursue happiness are relegated far down their priorities list from their right to take our money to accomplish THEIR goals.

    People need to really internalize that Democrats are totalitarians. Constitutional rights mean nothing to them. Freedom means nothing to them. Individual responsibility means nothing to them.

    As I have noted here before, all but 3 Blue states (NM NV HI) are above 2.1 in total fertility, while only 3 Red states are below. Democrats are spending money the children of Republicans – and ONLY Republicans – will be forced to repay.

    I don’t go to work to feed the children of other people. I don’t vote for people who demand to rule over me. Independents need to understand today’s Democrats — and STOP VOTING FOR THEIR DESTRUCTIVENESS.

    … Or Red states just need to secede to keep their freedom, allowing the Blue states to drown in the swamps they are creating. Transferring Red state money – and the money of unborn Republican children – to Blue states may forestall our date with Greece, but it will only forestall it, and we will waste trillions in delaying the inevitable. There is no point in adults continuing participation in a government that lets half the voters not pay taxes – but vote themselves an ever-increasing share of OPM. It’s time to go. The sooner the better.

  • Alex Scipio

    Correction to above (wish we had an edit button).

    Only 3 Blue states are above 2.1 TFR; only 3 Red states below.

  • Kansas Scott

    “Wig Wag” in #1 seems to have a profound fear of freedom of speech. I tend to have a greater concern about the state choosing who speaks or gathers.

    I believe that is a concern that both Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Mead share.

  • JimK

    I’m sure if your religion was Global Warming you wouldn’t have a problem with the City.

  • WigWag

    No reasonable person is for criminalizing speech, Kansas Scott; Reverend Phelps, Moran and Wright can preach anything they chose from the pulpit and they can say anything that they want outside their churches. The question in this case is whether New York City is obligated to rent them space for their religious rants.

    The founding fathers and Jefferson in particular understood that few subjects have the potential to be as disruptive to civil comity as religious disputes. They had ample examples of what the results of religious animosity could be by looking at England and much of the rest of Europe. They had no desire to import this animosity into the United States.

    They wrote the Constitution as they did for a reason. There is no obvious answer to the case Professor Mead refers to in this post. It is entirely reasonable to conclude as you and Mead do that it is governmental discrimination against religious speech for New York City to rent to nonreligious groups but not religious groups. Conversely it is also reasonable to conclude that New York City is right; for it as a governmental agency to rent space to any religious group unconstitutionally entangles government with religion.

    The problem is not with the plaintiffs or the defendants in the case; the problem is with Prodessor Mead (or the youngsters who ghost write his posts). As is so often the case, to Mead the world seems black and white; shades of gray don’t exist. To Mead there is no such thing as nuance or perhaps he feels that to admit to seeing nuance somehow puts him at odds with the great Jacksonian unwashed out there who he assures us view counterintuitive thinking with contempt.

    It is Mead who compared New York’s position with that of the German Court on the circumcision case; by doing so he makes a mockery of his point of view on the circumcision issue. It is extraordinary that he can’t discern the huge chasm between a court which has outlawed an ancient and harmless religious rite (actually a rite that arguably fosters good health) and the decision of New York to attempt to avoid becoming entangled in religious disputes.

    The reason that we have such religious diversity and freedom in this country is because of the wisdom of our founders. Professor Mead’s decision to author a post that simplifies the New York case beyond recognition is evidence that he views Jefferson’s concerns as a triviality to be dismissed out of hand.

    Mead knows better. This post just doesn’t pass muster for anyone but the credulous.

  • Kevin

    The response to some people saying stupid and hateful things is for their opponents to speak up, not to pass laws trying to silence them.

  • WigWag

    By the way, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has already overturned Judge Preska (the judge who found for the plaintiffs in the case at hand) once on the same issue making it somewhat likely that the City will win on appeal. See,

    My guess is that the Supreme Court would be more favorably disposed to the plaintiff’s argument rather than the cities, but it’s hard to know for sure.

    What makes Professor Mead’s post so hysterical are comments like this,

    “Blinded by secularist bigotry and self-righteousness, the city’s legal department appears determined to waste scarce taxpayer money by appealing the decision.”

    and this,

    “But militant secularists want to draw the line and say there is just one thing you can’t do in a New York public school: pray…addled by a false concept of what religious freedom means, cockamamie bureaucrats and officials in New York think it their duty to stop small congregations — many immigrants, most composed largely of poor people — from enjoying the same rights that other New Yorkers have.”

    Professor Mead might be interested to learn that the case was hardly brought by a militant secularist. It was filed two decades ago by then City Corporation Counsel, Victor A. Kovner. The former Corporation Counsel is quite a leftist (and an idiot as far as I am concerned) but he’s no “secularist.” In fact, he’s an observant Jews. The City’s case has been prosecuted under Mayors Guiluani and Bloomberg; does Professor Mead really think that both were contemptuous of religion? Does he think that the Appeals Court Judges who overturned Judge Pleska’s last decision on the subject are bigoted secularists? Or is he prepared to admit that his comments are over the top and ridiculous?

    Do Professor Mead and his amen corner in his comment section also believe in the War on Christmas that Bill O’Reilly dreamed up to augment his ratings?

    This isn’t a post by Professor Mead, it’s a childish hussy fit.

  • Kris

    WigWag: If NYC rents space to the Democratic or Republican party, it will have to rent space to the National Socialist Movement and the Workers World Party…

  • thibaud

    What WigWag said. Well done: fact-based, properly-researched, clear-eyed.

  • Ethan C.

    If NYC rents space to the AMA, it will have to rent space to the National Homeopathic Medicine Society. If it rents space to the the NRA, it will have to rent space to the Brady Campaign. If it rents space to the Beef Council, it’ll have to rent space to PETA.

    So what?

  • Sam L.

    Rent to one, rent to all who come asking until all rooms/areas are rented. Remember, Wig-Wag, the religious and other groups are not preaching to the children in the school, they are preaching to themselves and anyone interested in joining them.

    Also, “This isn’t a post by Professor Mead, it’s a childish hussy fit.” I suspect you meant “hissy”, unless you are sexist/misogynist.

  • WigWag

    Yes, Sam L, I meant “hissy fit.” On the Qwerty keyboard, the “I” and the “U” are adjacent to each other. It is easy to make a typo, especially because I usually type my comments on an I-Phone. That’s also my excuse for making so many other spelling and syntax errors.

    I don’t think Professor Mead is a “hussy.” I do think that this particularly post is the the perfect example of what a “hissy fit” looks like in the world of new media.

  • thibaud

    If the hussy fits, wear it.

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