Current Events – Worship in Public Venues

Amendment I to the Constitution of the United States of America:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

“When the state shall use its power to enforce the decrees and sustain the institutions of the church—then will Protestant America have formed an image to the papacy, and there will be a national apostasy which will end only in national ruin.” Last Day Events, 134.

Sovereign Grace City Church in Brooklyn, New York, used to meet for worship every Sunday at P.S. 282, a public school that charged an affordable rent of $1,084 per month for Sunday morning access. But lately Sovereign Grace has changed worship locations nearly every week. The moves were not random: They were a result of a decision by the city to ban religious organizations from renting public school buildings for worship services.

Despite some legal setbacks, pastors and church supporters in New York City aren’t giving up the fight on what they say is their right to hold worship services in public schools on weekends, even if that means getting arrested.

On Thursday [January 12, 2012], approximately 200 people gathered in the Bronx to hold a prayer rally and protest against the city’s decision to ban religious services from taking place in its public schools on weekends., May 31, 2012.

The United States Supreme Court recently sided with New York City officials who say letting churches worship in school buildings violates the separation of church and state. But Charlotte-Mecklenburg [South Carolina] Schools [CMS] doesn’t plan to change its practice of letting churches rent space after hours. …

CMS leaders acknowledged the ruling, but said they don’t believe it precludes CMS from continuing to count houses of worship among the “educational, recreational, civic and cultural activities” considered acceptable., May 31, 2012.

Two decisions by the United States Supreme Court provide for the use of public school buildings by churches, religious and political groups on a viewpoint-neutral basis, if the public school districts are already renting their facilities after hours to other community groups. The subsidy involved in use of public schools by religious organizations, however, continues to create concern, confusion, and litigation. The law on the limits of church use is not completely settled. While schools are not permitted to discriminate against religious groups because they are religious, schools can create regulations that impact church use of school buildings. One appellate court, the 2nd Circuit, ruled in 2011 that a school board’s prohibition of hosting a particular type of activity, religious worship services, was constitutional.

Since public school districts often have the least expensive rental rates available in a community, rental to churches often involves what many of us consider taxpayer subsidy of congregations. Start-up churches often take advantage of low school rental to establish themselves. They obtain a prominent site for a new church, collect church donations on public property, and use their savings to eventually buy their own tax-free buildings. No wonder many taxpayers are concerned! May 31, 2012.