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.”
Matt Barber, constitutional attorney and chairman of Liberty Counsel, says Mayor Bloomberg is wrong for pushing for the evictions. Barber adds that Bloomberg is also wrong to allow Katherine Stewart, author of “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children,” to do his bidding through an editorial in his Bloomberg news service.
“A radical religious ideology is rapidly gaining momentum in America’s public elementary schools,” Stewart writes. “Conservative groups within the evangelical Christian movement are carrying out an organized campaign to capture the hearts and minds of children and subvert the separation of church and state. … If these folks were Islamists intending to inject their fundamentalism into America’s schools, and calling for Shariah law, I have little doubt they would be stopped. And yet what the evangelists are doing is identical in all but name.”
“Shame on Bloomberg for this propagandist screed,” Barber said. “Ms. Stewart is a known anti-Christian activist. Her opinion piece has revealed little more than either woeful ignorance or intentionally dishonesty.”
He continued, “The United States Supreme Court decision, Good News Club v. Milford Central School District, requires that schools cannot discriminate against religious after-school clubs. That is exactly what Ms. Stewart would have them do.”
Barber said that the Supreme Court has already ruled that churches can use schools.
“The High Court has ruled that when other after-school groups, such as scout troops, are allowed to meet on school property, the Constitution ensures that religious clubs are granted equal access,” Barber said.
“Despite Ms. Stewart’s prejudice-based wishful thinking, schools cannot ban Good News Clubs solely because of their religious viewpoint. Still, it’s not surprising that she is so ill-informed. The ACLU and the larger secular-left have been pushing this same unconstitutional, anti-Christian ‘separation of church and state’ nonsense for years,” Barber said. “Even the ACLU’s own promotional materials overtly advocate religious discrimination: ‘The message of the Establishment Clause is that religious activities must be treated differently from other activities to ensure against governmental support for religion,’ it claims. This is patently untrue. In fact, the First Amendment guarantees the exact opposite.”
New York City Civil Liberties Union spokesman Udi Ofer attempted to defend the Establishment Clause argument in his Times editorial by citing a lower court ruling.
“As the federal appeals court that upheld the city Education Department’s ban explained, ‘When worship services are performed in a place, the nature of the site changes. The site is no longer simply a room in a school being used temporarily for some activity,'” Ofer wrote, quoting the court. “The church has made the school the place for the performance of its rites, and might well appear to have established itself there. The place has, at least for a time, become the church.”
Barber disagreed, saying Stewart and the ACLU are following a dangerous path of reasoning.
“Any school district that follows the lead of Katherine Stewart and the ACLU is following them off a legal cliff. They advocate illegal viewpoint discrimination,” Barber said. “It’s little wonder Liberty Counsel beats the ACLU in court over 90 percent of the time we meet. We have won dozens of discrimination suits on behalf of Child Evangelism Fellowship and will continue to do so when and if school officials trample the Constitution.”
WND columnist Mychal Massie said in a column that Bloomberg is playing to the wrong crowd.
“During his years as mayor, Bloomberg has participated in various prayer vigils and services commemorating 9/11. This inexplicable ban on referencing faith and prayer makes it pretty obvious that the mayor’s former appearances of concern and sympathy were fraudulent,” Massie said. “Whatever one’s faith might be, is there any time more appropriate than at a commemoration of family and friends murdered on 9/11 to invoke that which brings comfort and/or meaning to those who are bereaved? Is Bloomberg really more concerned for the feelings of a few presumably perturbed atheists than the deeply held religious convictions of most people in this nation? Or, is this all about catering to Muslim discomfort?”