Monday, February 6, 2012
In For Congregations Gathering in City Schools, Time to Move, the New York times reports that New York City, with approval from the courts, will begin enforcing its policy prohibiting churches from renting space for Sunday worship services in otherwise unused public school facilities:
The issue of using public schools for religious services has been a matter of debate for decades. 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. …
The debate over churches in schools has been passionate and has provoked harsh exchanges. 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. Supporters argue that they use the schools only when students are not around and that the buildings represent nothing more than a physical space in which they can gather. Some churches are holding out hope that the Legislature will intervene. The State Senate is expected to consider a bill this week that would allow the churches to continue worshiping in the schools. A similar bill has been proposed in the Assembly and may be debated this week.
Church leaders and their advocates say they will suffer from the decision; some funds used for charitable work will now have to be redirected toward higher rent. They also say the schools and communities they occupied will be hurt, because they are losing tenants who became interested in the schools’ well-being.