Tuesday, December 6, 2011

No religion in public schools

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal to overturn a ruling by an appeals court to allow religious services in New York City school buildings after hours. The appeal was made by the Bronx Household of Faith, an evangelical Christian church. The religious group wanted to use a local middle school for its Sunday morning services that included singing of hymns, prayer and preaching from the Bible.

The appeal was made on the grounds that the denial by the New York City Board of Education was “viewpoint discrimination” and the appeals court authorized “censorship of private religious speakers.” The Supreme Court rejected the appeal without comment. This usually means that a majority of the justices found no merit in the request.

In a community, places represent things. The police station, the fire station and schools are places in the community that have very clear meanings. When you go to any of those places, like the place station, you are expecting to see police conducting their official business. We expect the same experience when we visit the fire station and schools.

Private buildings have the same expectations but are also distinctly different then public buildings. The local hardware store, the auto repair facility and churches are different places than public. The owners and managers of private places have control over the image that they project and can refuse to allow entry to people as long as it isn’t based on certain issues.

Allowing religious activities in a public school building would confuse its purpose of learning. It sends a message that this is the religion you should learn about. If you attended a religious school building you would expect to hear about one particular religion. But, public schools need to be a place where learning can be conducted without the influence of any religion.

The New York City School Board made the right decision to keep religion out of their buildings. This maintains a clear division between public and private purpose. It was good to see that the appeals court and the Supreme Court agreed with their decision.


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