The NYC city council has just passed a resolution allowing religious groups to worship in public schools, taking a stand on a decades-old controversy. Since 1994, state legislators and activists with a radical interpretation of the First Amendment have been trying to evict New York City churches from public schools. The official New York City Board of Education policy forbids religious institutions from renting public schools, a restriction that applies to no other type of organization. Churches and their supporters have been fighting back, and the battle over the enforcement of this policy has taken a serpentine path though both state legislative bodies and state and national courts.
Against this backdrop, the City Council’s resolution is an important step forward in this interminable battle. Christianity Today:
The resolution (full text) notes that current restrictions “have had a more restrictive effect on religious organizations seeking to use school property than would appear to be required by the Establishment Clause,” and calls upon state lawmakers and the governor to “sign legislation amending the New York State Education Law to afford houses of worship equal access to school property.”
This resolution puts the majority of the council at odds with Council Speaker and current mayoral frontrunner Christine Quinn, who strongly opposed it and has at least once before blocked an attempt to pass a similar resolution. Several council members and education officials held a press conference to speak out against the resolution. World magazine reports:
The city’s Board of Education has said that “impressionable” children might be confused if they saw a religious service happening at their school. Council members who spoke up against the resolution Wednesday said it violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
It seems clear to us that the Founders did not intend the First Amendment to deny churches the right to pay money to rent public school properties. If anything, they thought religions, because of their ability to inculcate virtue in the citizenry, should have greater protection than other civic associations. Given our weakening social ties, churches have a more vital civic role to play today than ever before. In that light, making it harder for them to meet is bad policy indeed. We hope the council’s resolution will be heeded.
[Christine Quinn image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]