Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Separation of church and school (building)

This article offers an account of a New York City lawsuit regarding religious groups’ use of school buildings for worship. In a nutshell, the argument against it is Sandra Day O’Connor’s "endorsement" test; the argument for it is equal treatment and access. Note these statistics:

• On Fridays, the district issued 2,717 permits to groups ranging from the Girl Scouts to labor unions. Thirteen permits went to religious organizations: six Buddhist, six Christian and one Jewish.

• On Saturdays, 7,450 permits were issued. Forty-four of those went to 15 religious organizations: eight Christian, four Jewish, two Buddhist and one Jehovah’s Witnesses. (The board requires some groups to get several permits for one meeting.)

• On Sundays, the board issued 2,168 permits. Fifty went to religious groups: 35 Christian, 11 Buddhist, three Hindu and one Muslim. In some cases, multiple groups use the same building.

The religious groups ought to win this at all levels, without any problem.

Discussions - 2 Comments

This is public land and should be allowed to be used by whoever gets the permit first. Just because you are a religious group makes you no less part of the public. Period.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

It also seems that Congress has done nothing here.

Congress passed the Equal Access Act back in the 1980s, compelling schools to make their facilities available to all student groups, if they received federal funds and if they permitted any noncurriculum related groups. As I noted here, John Roberts was on the brief in the case (Westside v. Mergens) that vindicated this act, as well as on another that affirmed equal treatment of religious groups, along with others, when school facilities were made publicly available (Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches). The Justice Department has filed a number of amicus briefs in this case, available here and here.

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