Schoharie County

Church service in Richmondville school at issue

A deadline set to force more than 160 churches out of New York City school buildings is being watche

A deadline set to force more than 160 churches out of New York City school buildings is being watched closely in Schoharie County, where a local school facility serves as a site for weekly worship.

Last summer, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city’s Board of Education and upheld its ban on using school buildings for worship services.

The decision followed a lawsuit filed by the Bronx Household of Faith, one of the churches that held worship services in a school building, which contended the ban violates the right to free speech as protected in the U.S. Constitution.

The church sought review of the case from the U.S. Supreme Court, but that court refused to hear the case in December, leading to a deadline of Feb. 12 for faith communities to stop using school buildings in the Big Apple.

Meanwhile, New York state legislators in both houses have submitted bills aimed at countering the court decision and allowing school boards to permit “speech that expresses religious conduct or discusses subjects from a religious viewpoint.”

The former Cobleskill Wesleyan Church, now known as the Fusion Community Church, holds Sunday morning worship services in the auditorium of the Cobleskill-Richmondville High School in Richmondville, but it was unclear Monday if that arrangement will be affected by the decisions.

Cobleskill-Richmondville schools Superintendent Lynn Macan in an email Monday said the Board of Education “continues to discuss both sides of the issue,” but there’s no changes planned at this point.

“This is an issue that our Board of Education is following closely,” she said.

School district attorney Michael West said he’s just reading up on the court activity and it’s unclear yet if it will affect the district.

The Fusion Community Church has a congregation of roughly 300 people, according to the Rev. Timothy P. Brown, who declined to discuss the issue at length.

“If we lose the school we’ll find someplace else,” Brown said Monday.

The New York State Education Department does not comment on pending legislation, spokesman Tom Dunn said in an email Monday. He provided a passage from the School Law handbook, published by the NYS School Boards Association and the NYS Bar Association, which states that state Education Law doesn’t specifically allow or prohibit the use of school facilities for religious worship or instruction.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has not taken a stance on specific school building usage by churches, spokeswoman Jenn Carnig said Monday. But it does object to one proposal introduced in the state Legislature.

In a Feb. 2 news release, the NYCLU says the bill aimed at circumventing the courts’ decision would “threaten New Yorkers’ religious freedom.”

Allowing worship services in public schools violates the prohibition on government endorsing religion, according to the NYCLU.

The practice, according to the NYCLU, invites discrimination because Christian faith communities, which worship on Sundays, have greater access to school buildings than those that worship on other days.

The NYCLU also asserts that schools typically collect only a nominal fee for janitorial services, not rent or utilities, which means that the district is paying some of the costs of the church services.

The NYCLU also sides with the U.S. Court of Appeals’ opinion that the practice essentially converts public school buildings into neighborhood churches and, because of fliers and signs and attendance, members of the community ultimately identify the school building as a church.

Categories: Schenectady County

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