You are reading

Court’s Ruling Risks Hurting Communities, Not Helping

Editorial

Dec. 16, 2011 By Pastor Jon Storck of the Grace Fellowship Church in Sunnyside

I am writing regarding the recent Court actions which effectively bar synagogues, mosques, and other “houses of worship” from being allowed to rent space from NYC public schools for the purpose of “worship.”

I am the Pastor of Grace Fellowship Church, a Christian congregation that has been renting space at PS 150 for 6 years.  In addition to our “worship services,” we also rent space at PS 150 for a camp for 100 children and movie nights for 200 people during the summer.  We also volunteer for, and financially contribute to, various school programs from which we don’t directly benefit.

In its ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit did in fact reaffirm that “prayer, religious instruction, expression of devotion to God, and the singing of hymns,” are all allowable activities for religious groups to engage in while renting public schools.

However, what has been denied is for religious groups to hold a “worship service” in which these activities occur.  The Court noted that “the Supreme Court has warned that violation of the ‘Establishment Clause’ can result from [merely the] perception of endorsement.”  Though that risk does not exist merely by the presence of religious activities in a school, it might if they were performed during a “worship service.”

This is problematic for several reasons.

First, the Court is inconsistent.  Though the risk for a “perception of endorsement” exists in the Court’s mind when a “house of worship” meets for “worship” in a school once per week, that same concern does not exist, apparently, when public schools rent classroom space from “houses of worship” 5 days a week (e.g. PS 150 rents school space from Queen of Angels right here in Sunnyside).

Secondly, the Court has now played the role of theologian.  I wonder how many of the Justices have attended seminary and are really able to speak authoritatively about when “religious activity” ends, and actual “worship” begins?  What actually defines “worship” is a question to be answered by theologians, not U.S. Judges.

Finally, it does not presently seem to be an economically justifiable move to evict so many rent-paying groups.  The loss of rental funds from “houses of worship” will either have to be accounted for by increasing taxes or reducing services-both very popular options with NYC residents, I am sure!

Thankfully, Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who represents parts of the Bronx, is now pursuing legislation to keep school districts from discriminating against religious groups.  Furthermore, New York Sen. John Sampson, who represents sections of Brooklyn, has agreed to introduce legislation at the state level to ensure equal access for all groups-regardless of their religious beliefs or activities.

We aren’t asking for special treatment.  We are only asking for the same right of access as all other groups, regardless of their beliefs.

I would also like to add at the end, “Regardless of how our location changes, our commitment to serving the community of Sunnyside will not.  We love Sunnyside and agree that it is among the top 10 places to live in NYC!”

email the author: [email protected]

28 Comments

Click for Comments 
John K. Wilson

I suppose it was a bit too cute; but, I have to have some fun. Opposing Catherine Nolan, or anyone else, isn’t something I really want to do; but, it has to be done—and no one else will, so I do it. I’m glad Truth got his/her shot in; it did make me smile.
I appreciated all the comments here: there was serious thought on both sides—as well as some snarky fun. But, I think that we’re dueling personalities at this point; and have gotten too far away from Pastor John’s original article, which I enjoyed and agreed with. In the end, the court has ruled; so, all of our comments here are academic. C’est la vie.
To my friends and critics alike: you are all my neighbors; and, I wish everyone who reads this well. I believe I am seriously over-exposed (on this one thread alone!); so, my plan is to lie low for a while.
God Bless us everyone! If you think that God is a fantasy Magic Man In The Sky, then, just have a really great year-end season.
Happy Christmas!

Reply
Angray

Truth – That is hilarious!

I like the idea John Wilson has open communications with the public on forums. However, if you are serious about running for office, go do some real work and stop trolling forums. Get out there and put into action what you speak about, otherwise just stick with acting and bartending.

Reply
IrishSunnysider

Annie,

I’m sorry you seem to misunderstand. All I was stating was that religious beliefs are among the most deeply held private beliefs. These beliefs can cause conflict as they have, horribly, in my home country, largely because each side wanted the state to adopt and enforce their view. When religion and the state mix like this, it doesn’t have good consequences for a free society.

You’re “Jesus Christ” comment is different from what I am talking about, if a religious group held services in a school that were controversial, people would get upset, and then petition or sue the school. And no matter what the school did, to keep them or throw them out, they would get sued. This happens often, and as has been said ad nauseum, it far outweighs the rent these groups are paying. What if a school has to decide between allowing a Christian or Jewish group to rent space or betweeen two Christian sects? Would you want to make that decision?

Perception can be reality, you may be so far advanced that you don’t take these perceptions the wrong way, history says many don’t. Words matter, perceptions matter, this case allows the government to say, look, we’re funded by many different people and we’re not getting involved in these conflicts.

As for “religion” I think we’re all smart enough to know better. An earlier comment spoke about a unicorn convention in jest, certainly you didn’t take that seriously did you?

Oh and John, that’s real cute man. Let me try one….

RF: 3
Annie – 0.3
John K Wilson – 0

Reply
RF

Irish, that was long, but I largely agree.

All this really comes down to Annie and others trying to have it both ways.

If a government tried to tell Annie she cannot practice her faith in the privacy of her own home. Annie would (rightfully in this case) tell the government that her beliefs are private and to shove off. I guarantee she would do that, that’s what any sane person would do. In this case she would feel persecuted.

Now, on the flip side, Annie wants to go into a government owned public and secular building and hold worship services. Rightfully so, the city, and many, many, citizens who don’t share her views are telling her they don’t feel comfortable with that. That these public/private spheres should not be mixed. And now Annie….feels persecuted. Again.

Well sorry, you can’t just have a complex and feel you can have it both ways. That’s just not how logic or the world works.

You’re persecution complex and John’s little scorecard may help the both of you sleep at night, but those arguments don’t hold any weight in a court of law in the finest country on this Earth. And let me just say, Thank God for that.

Reply
Annie

“What if somebody screamed something offensive about your faith in a school, would you just sit back and take it and not complain? I highly doubt it.”

It happens all the time, whenever a teacher or administrator uses the phrase “Jesus Christ” as an expletive. But they have the right to free speech just as I do, and those sound waves don’t harm me.

“What if a pro-homosexual church/religion went into a school and started screaming about how churches are wrong to prevent gays from marrying?”

I don’t understand your argument here. Are you saying that some beliefs are more appropriate for a church meeting in a public school? I think a pro-gay church should have just as much right to rent space from a public school as any other group. Are you concerned that their pro-gay agenda might be harmful to the children that meet in the school? Again, I would like to understand the mechanism by which beliefs can be transmitted from a Sunday morning service to Monday morning school time.

For those of you who think that religious services should not be held in public buildings–you must first define “religion.” What, in essence, makes a worship service different from any other meeting? Who gets to decide what is religion and what is not? The state?

Reply
IrishSunnysider

Actually John, I (and I’m SURE there were others) feel RF wiped the floor with the lot of you. It’s puzzling you can’t grasp simple points.

As many have stated, the ruling only bars worship services, not bake sales and the like. This city is diverse, with many views, something you might not view as controversial during a service might offend many others. RF pointed out the treatment of homosexuals. What if a pro-homosexual church/religion went into a school and started screaming about how churches are wrong to prevent gays from marrying? You really think that wouldn’t be controversial?

This city can’t open itself up to worship services of private religious faith in PUBLIC (you do understand the word public right?) schools paid for by all taxpayers, not just the followers of Pastor John’s Fellowship. The legal fees from all the lawsuits would far trump any precious rent Annie is wailing about. Not to mention the controversy from government favoritism.

Oh and Annie, the “just words” argument? Really? That’s the best you could come up with? What if somebody screamed something offensive about your faith in a school, would you just sit back and take it and not complain? I highly doubt it.

I’m from Ireland, we’ve had years of religious strief, wars between Catholics and Protestants over details of faith and who the government should support. Thank god for secular public entities in this country. I live in Sunnyside, a small neighborhood with so much more diversity that my old country and yet for the most part we all get along.

Don’t jeopardize that. This is a just ruling. Take advantage of all the other advantages religious groups can and just remember there are many here that aren’t like you and doesn’t make them bad people.

Reply
John K. Wilson

Annie,
You have articulated in detail what I (and I’m sure there were others…) had in mind in general; but, could not express anything like as well as you. Very sharp; very smart. Thanks.

Reply
Annie

So basically no public entity should be allowed to rent space to any private entity b/c that private entity may hold views that some other person may disagree with. That’s the logical result of RK’s logic.

These churches are not asking for preferential treatment. They just want to be rent-paying tenants. The school is not endorsing them. If PS 150 found a tenant willing to pay more, I have no doubt that they wouldn’t renew the church’s lease. I have been going to churches meeting in schools my whole life and I’ve seen it happen before. Just like the corner store has to close down because the landlords raise the rent, so can a church lose its lease if their landlords ask for a rent increase.

The church pays rent and conducts their services outside of school hours. No person affiliated with the school is asked to subscribe to any of the church’s beliefs. The church is not asking that the school make any changes to their practices, habits, or decoration to accommodate them. No one affiliated with the school is exposed to any religious materials against their will.

And the church is not demanding to hold services at a school. They are not asking to be given any extra rights. GFC and the other churches meeting in public schools are merely asking to be treated as tenants with the same rights as any other organization. By blocking them from renting a from a public school, the government is exercising discrimination against them on religious ground. If the state passes legislation dictating where and how religious organizations may conduct there services, they are in effect “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Furthermore, this means allowing the state to define what is and is not a religious activity. Again, this is unconstitutional. What is the substantive difference between our meeting and any other meeting? The names God and Jesus are words like any other words. If you don’t believe in them, then what power do they have over you? It almost seems superstitious to fear the presence of a worship service. Are people afraid that the sound vibes from the sermon will linger in the air until Monday morning?

Reply
jsnmphs

It’s interesting. The man church state separatist refer to the most namely Thomas Jefferson, actually allowed worship services in the US Capital while he was in office. Seems like a precedent to me. Maybe he understood the constitution and it’s intent on church state issues better than we do.

Reply
velociraptor

@RF

The president swears his oath of office on a bible, is that a violation of the “separation of church and state” ? By the way, show me in the constitution where that phrase is written.

Reply
RF

Julian1, get off your high horse. New York City is lucky to have many secular organizations to operate soup kitchens (Food Bank of NYC) and blood drives (New York Blood Center) for all its citizens, not just those who subscribe to their own dogma. As if you have a monopoly on good acts.

Velociraptor is also worshipping at the altar to Rick Santorum, it’s baffling. If a homosexual came in and demanded to worship or get married at your church you’d be furious. If the government tried to force you to let them you’d be up in arms, even if it was “after hours.”

Well guess what? That’s how many people outside of your religion (or those of no faith at all) feel when you demand to hold worship meetings in our schools.

Beyond everything I mentioned above. It all comes down to Separation of Church and State, a proud tradition in this great country. Everyone, religious or not, should have this Jefferson quote memorized:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. . . .”

I won’t tell you what to believe in your meetings, you don’t force your worship on our schools. It works perfectly.

We all have different religious beliefs, or non-beliefs, that’s fine. I just hope (maybe I should pray?) that we all keep it peaceful.

However, this stuff above is the stuff you need to learn. With your brain and your reason. Study it, use you’re earthly faculties once in a while and we’re all better off.

Reply
Julian1

I see the anti religion bigots are on the march. The church is in the school after hours and rents the space. What is the objection? I think some of the people here do not like Christians. If that is the case, the next time a church has a soup kitchen or a clothing drive or a blood drive or a concert, feel free not to attend. Acceptance cuts both ways.

Reply
greg

Reverend – Why don’t you just go and rent or share space with one of the many churches in the neighborhood. They seem to be doing quite well with their tax free status. Maybe they will give you a better deal than the DOE. Don’t you all worship the same God? I know a group of Rastafarians who want to hold a worship service in the same public school and they are willing to pay more rent than you. Can we the taxpayers auction the space to the highest bidder and optimize the rental use of our facility?

Reply
John K. Wilson

Pomme,
Taxpayers aren’t “hosting religious worship” per se: the church group is paying rent to the taxpayers, in effect. Putting aside religion, the church group is a “going concern”:, as it were. After they pay their rent, what they do in the space is really no one’s business (unless blood sacrifices are offered, which, I doubt).
Pastor John addressed this quite well.
RF
Your points about “conflict” and “favoritism” are likewise made moot (in my opinion) by the payment of rent. I agree with you about the tax code giving advantages to religious groups and elevating them to favored status: not a good idea. But, in this case, this group is generating income for the state.

Reply
Raquel

The services are “after hours” aren’t they? How are they interfering with the rights of others?

Reply
pomme

Religious groups can already rent public school facilities for various purposes. That is enough. There is no reason to be holding religious worship in public schools. As the excellent comment by RF pointed out, taxpayers belong to many religions and also no religion, and there is no reason that religious battles over who rents what and why should occur regarding public facilities. No arguments about what is fair, who gets more space or time, or whether the public school is favoring this or that religious. Founding Fathers had their fill of religious wars in Europe and determined not to repeat this is the US. It was a very wise decision. Plus why should taxpayers who are critical of particular religious or all religions have to put up with their taxes hosting religious worship? Conduct your religious services in your own institutions, of which there are many.

Reply
Anonymous

I would like to rent space for my space unicorn convention where we sprinkle fairy dust on each other and drink rainbows.

Reply
velociraptor

The “establishment clause” simply states that CONGRESS is not allowed to pass a law creating an official national religion, THAT’S ALL. It is in no way a mandate to expunge religion from the public square regardless how many left-wingers insist otherwise. Read the damn thing yourself if you don’t believe me.

Reply
RF

This really shouldn’t be difficult to understand. Government buildings are paid for by taxes, those taxes come from people of all faiths, PARTICULARLY here in diverse NYC.

These buildings are kept secular and non-religious for that reason, holding worship services in them for any religion does present a conflict. With all the continued issues between different religious groups (and groups within them like Protestent/Catholic/Evangelical Christians) the city can’t leave itself open to charges of favoritism. That would get them sued even more than they already do, at an enormous expense to taxpayers.

Beyond that, churches and other worship services already take advantage of tax-free housing and all other sorts of advantages in the tax code that no other enity in this country gets, what more could you possibly need? That needy talk is just insulting.

Pastor John has the right to express his views and I’m glad he’s done so. I especially find it very interesting he thinks he should be the all-end judge on morality and faith in public entities, and not, oh say, the Consitution.

On behalf of what I feel is a solid majority of New Yorkers and Sunnyside residents, I’d now like to ask him to just can it and keep his views between him and his congregation and out of our schools.

Reply
John K. Wilson

Other publications, and citizens, refer to JVB as Councilman Jimmy without any sense of irony. It seemed disrespectful that some should assume that all of his constituents see him as a kind of Disney-fied, benevolent cartoon character. Many of us don’t. So, I use the same phrase they do; and, I add the quotations to re-introduce the idea that he has critics.
I like JVB personally; he is a pleasant guy. I don’t like the manner in which he represents us, however; because I think he’s sold out to special interests; and wrapped it in a smile.
I’m glad you asked; and, I hope this answers your question.

Reply
Southie

John K Wilson, why do you put quotes around Jimmy’s name or refer to him as “Councilman Jimmy”? It seems childish and disrespectful to me. Am I misinterpreting this?

Reply
John K. Wilson

Pastor Storck has made a very good argument as to why this court ruling is a bad one. It is interesting that our local pols, Sen Gianaris, Assemblyperson Nolan, and Councilman ‘Jimmy’ weren’t mentioned. Perhaps they will yet come to the aid of Grace Fellowship Church of Sunnyside. We’ll just have to wait; and, see what they do.

Reply

Leave a Comment
Reply to this Comment

All comments are subject to moderation before being posted.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Recent News

Crunching the Queens crime numbers: felony assaults across the borough on the rise, burglaries down slightly in northern Queens

Feb. 21, 2024 By Ethan Marshall

The number of felony assaults across Queens increased during the 28-day period from Jan. 22 through Feb. 18, compared to the same period of time last year, according to the latest crime stats released by the NYPD Tuesday. At the same time, the number of reported burglaries experienced a slight but noticeable drop in northern Queens.