Wide Open Spaces
by Anthony Stasi
Feb 14, 2012 | 2344 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When the city decided to end the use of public school space by religious organizations and churches, it was making a decision that it was within its rights to do.

Renting space to churches or religious groups is not, however, a violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause (the clause that explains the separation of church and state). People are prone to think that any time the words church and government are in the same sentence that this is a violation of the church-state separation, and they cannot be more off base.

The Establishment Clause states there is no established religion in the country and means simply that there is no documented religion of the United States. Whether a city government wants to rent, or even give away, space to a religious-based institution is by no means such a violation.

If it were a violation, it would mean that people would be forced to choose between having religion in their lives and having First Amendment rights. Americans are allowed both, even when they are sometimes mentioned in the same sentence or in the same policy.

If Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver wants to craft a bill that gives Chancellor Dennis Walcott more say as to whom the city rents space, it is not a terrible idea. Not every group that pays taxes or fees has a right to utilize school space.

Churches are not being denied First Amendment rights by not being allowed into public schools, but there is still no good reason to deny these groups access if they are not interfering with education. Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis of Staten Island explains that everybody wins with these groups renting space from the public school system. “These groups are paying for their space at a time when the city is desperate for money,” says Malliotakis.

The Supreme Court has written before that there is no standing in court where government simply has a relationship with religious organizations. In Valley Forge Christian Academy v. The People for the Separation of Church and State (1981), the government was giving property that it no longer needed to a religious-based college.

Unlike the church groups in New York City, who were paying for the space, this was a case of the government giving space away. In this case, the High Court said that this was not a violation of the separation of church and state. In both cases, the government had a choice and was in no way coerced by religious influence.

The White House's Office of Faith Based Neighborhood Partnerships actually encourages the kind of relationships that are being discussed in this city policy.

There are real violations of the Establishment Clause, but not every instance where government and religion coexist is some kind of violation. If the city wants these groups out, that is the city’s prerogative, but making the argument that they fear giving the same rights to the Ku Klux Klan is hard to understand.

The schools have been renting space to church groups for years without a reciprocal request from hate groups. If Silver and company want to re-craft a bill as a means to keep potentially polarizing groups from renting this space, it should happen fast. We want the chancellor in charge of school space, but we should also be cognizant that religious-based institutions tend to get education right most of the time.

WTC Looking Up

It’s been a very long time since the city wondered what would be the best way to rebuild the World Trade Center. The once-named Freedom Tower, and now the better-named World Trade Center, is up and reaching further into the sky every day.

This will always be hallowed ground for the people we lost and the events that happened that day, but it is interesting to see people look up when they pass the new skyscraper. They look up to see the interesting twisted shape, and its massive height.

It took a long time, but that was largely due to the sensitivity of the area. The mayor gets much credit for shepherding the project along. The optimism is in the faces of the people that look up, because it’s been a long time since they did that around here.

The real New Yorkers, we outer-borough lifelong residents, often do not get around to landmarks, such as the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. But this is different. Go visit the memorial to our lost countrymen and see the new building when you get a chance.
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