In New York City, powerful players in both politics and media are working to ban churches from using public school facilities for their weekend worship and are planning to enforce a Feb. 12 “eviction” notice for dozens of congregations.
“Our view is that public school buildings, which are funded by taxpayers’ dollars, should not be used as houses of worship,” said Marge Feinberg, spokeswoman for New York City’s Department of Education. “Public school space cannot and should not be used for worship services, especially because school space is not equally available to all faiths.”
And though state lawmakers have scrambled to pass legislation that would stop the evictions, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office has submitted a letter to the legislature asking it to help defeat the bill.
A Feb. 1 New York Times editorial is further beating the drum for Bloomberg, saying that the bill working its way through the New York legislature is unconstitutional.
“This legislation defies a federal court’s strong message about its likely unconstitutionality. It deserves the governor’s veto,” the editorial said. “The measures attempt to undo the effect of a sound ruling in June by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The decision, written by Judge Pierre Leval, said the city did not improperly discriminate against viewpoints or trample on free exercise of religion when it barred an evangelical group, the Bronx Household of Faith, from holding its Sunday services at Public School 15.”
New York City Civil Liberties Union spokesman Udi Ofer said in an opinion piece in the Times that the churches have been controlling the schools.
“When churches take over a school every Sunday, both the church members and the community members begin to equate the church with the school. Neighborhood children who attend the school begin to view the church as part of their school,” Ofer wrote. “Bronx Household of Faith, a Christian congregation that excludes Muslims from its services and persons who have not been baptized, has held its worship services at P.S. X15 Institute for Environmental Learning for 20 years every Sunday. It is the only place where it holds its worship services. The church and the school have become inseparable.”
Senior producer and host of the Truth in Action ministry’s radio program, Jerry Newcombe, says the Times and Ofer are mistaken.
“I don’t agree with them. Nor would George Washington, John Adams, or Thomas Jefferson,” Newcombe said. “The same men who wrote the First Amendment also adopted the Northwest Ordinance, which says, ‘Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary for good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.’”
Newcombe said American Schools traditionally had a role in moral and religious training.
“To the founders, the schools were to teach Christianity,” he said. “Now, they have converted the schools into what Bill Clinton even said is bad: Religion-free zones.
Now the mayor, egged on by liberal elites, such as the New York Times editorial staff, wants to make it that the buildings themselves, not just the schools, become religion-free zones.”
Newcombe also said that the U. S. government was never supposed to be a “religion-free” institution.
“I am amazed, especially when James Hutson of the Library of Congress points out that on a weekly basis, when he was president, Thomas Jefferson attended Christian worship services at the U.S. Capitol building,” Newcombe said. “Those services were not discontinued until the 1880s. Clearly, the founders of our country didn’t intend for the First Amendment to be twisted to give us state-sanctioned atheism. But that’s what some of our elites seem to be pushing for these days.”