As of this past Sunday, churches in New York City are no longer permitted to use public school facilities for their worship services, but a bill before the State Assembly may change all that. According to The Christian Post, the state Senate has passed a bill reversing the eviction mandate, but the bill must pass the Assembly before the churches can use the space again. More than 70 churches across the five boroughs have been affected by the decision of New York City Board of Education and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund says accommodation of these churches does not violate the Constitution, saying the Supreme Court has addressed this issue five times in the past 30 years. “The Supreme Court has explicitly rejected the Establishment Clause as a reason justifying this kind of exclusion, because these are private religious speakers, not endorsed by the government,” says Lorence. “Government accommodation of private speakers does not mean the government endorses their messages.” But some lawmakers are concerned that allowing churches to use the space would inevitably open up the public school facilities for use by anyone, including radical groups.
In the meantime, the churches who formerly used the public school spaces are struggling to find places to worship during these deliberations which could take months. Some congregations with buildings have opened their church homes and their hearts to those displaced, but others are deeply troubled to have to leave the neighborhoods and communities with which they’ve established bonds of service and ministry for years.
According to a recent poll by LifeWay Research, over 60 percent of Americans are not bothered by churches using public schools for worship, and almost half of New Yorkers feel the same.