I am heartened by the ruling today by Judge Loretta Preska allowing churches to again rent from NYC public schools. If you’re a NY State resident, I encourage you to call Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office (212-312-1420) and request that he please allow Bill A8800 to come before the Assembly for a vote. The bill authorizes the rental of school buildings for worship.
I am grieved that New York City is planning to take the unwise step of removing 68 churches from the spaces that they rent in public schools. It is my conviction that those churches housed in schools are invaluable assets to the neighborhoods that they serve. Churches have long been seen as positive additions to communities. Family stability, resources for those in need, and compassion for the marginalized are all positive influences that neighborhood churches provide. There are many with first-hand experience who will claim that the presence of churches in a neighborhood can lead to a drop in crime.
The great diversity of our city means that we will never all agree completely on anything. And we cherish our city’s reputation for tolerance of differing opinions and beliefs. Therefore, we should all mourn if disagreement with certain beliefs of the church is allowed to unduly influence the formation of just policy and practice.
I disagree with the opinion written by Judge Pierre Leval that: “A worship service is an act of organized religion that consecrates the place in which it is performed, making it a church.” This is an erroneous theological judgment; I know of no Christian church or denomination that believes that merely holding a service in a building somehow “consecrates” it, setting it apart from all common or profane use. To base a legal opinion on such a superstitious view is surely invalid. Conversely, I concur with Judge John Walker’s dissenting opinion that this ban constitutes viewpoint discrimination and the use of public schools raises no legitimate Establishment Clause concerns.
A disproportionate number of churches that are affected by this prohibition are not wealthy, established communities of faith. They are ones who possess the fewest resources and many work with the poor. Redeemer has many ties with those churches and their pastors, and our church community invests time and resources to assist them to be good neighbors in their communities.
Let them be those good neighbors. I am hopeful that the leaders of New York City and the legislators of New York State will see the value of a society that encourages all spheres of culture—the church, government, education, business, etc—to work together for human flourishing.
Dr. Timothy Keller
Redeemer Presbyterian Church