Logo
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Shut out in San Diego?

Church use of public school buildings is both good and legal


iStock

Shut out in San Diego?
You have {{ remainingArticles }} free {{ counterWords }} remaining. You've read all of your free articles.

Full access isn’t far.

We can’t release more of our sound journalism without a subscription, but we can make it easy for you to come aboard.

Get started for as low as $3.99 per month.

Current WORLD subscribers can log in to access content. Just go to "SIGN IN" at the top right.

LET'S GO

Already a member? Sign in.

Every weekend across America, most of the nation’s public schools are dark and locked with the halls empty. Many community groups take advantage of the use of public school buildings when students and faculty have vacated the campus. Groups like the Boy Scouts often lease the facilities. Civic groups sometimes rent the facilities to hold their meetings. Churches also see the advantage of renting public school buildings.

Canyon Springs Church in San Diego, for example, has held services inside San Diego Unified School District’s Marshall Middle School for years. Each week, they pay rent to the school district to use an otherwise empty space that is ideal for their gathering. Over the years, the church has also invested over $100,000 in the building, updating the school’s theater and equipping it with the latest in video projection, sound engineering, and even new carpet.

It’s a win-win for the church and the school district.

But now activists are upset with the church’s use of the building. It seems someone recently spoke at the church on a topic shared by most of the Abrahamic faiths since Abraham left his homeland, but that disagrees with the philosophy of the day. They want the school district to end its rental agreement with the church.

A petition to oust the church from using the otherwise empty public school building on Sunday mornings stresses that, as a taxpayer-funded facility, the building should be “a safe, accepting, open environment 100% of the time.”

It’s a curious demand. The complaint is not that the carpet is stained, but that the mere presence of a church for a couple of hours inside an otherwise empty public school building renders the facility as unsafe, unaccepting, and closed.

According to a report out of the Los Angeles Times, the district is seriously entertaining ending its two-and-a-half decade agreement with Canyon Springs Church. The Times reports a district spokesperson explaining that, “school facilities cannot be used by a group that illegally discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, among other characteristics.”

Ideologically driven activists may not assert a secular monopoly over taxpayer-funded facilities.

In other words, San Diego Unified School District may officially disagree with the religious viewpoint of this church and, if it will not comport itself with the district’s ideological preferences, it must be driven away. This is patently illegal.

The Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly warned against what this school district is now asked to do. When the Center Moriches Union Free School District in New York, for example, prevented Lamb’s Chapel from using its facility, the Justices said that denial violated the U.S. Constitution.

That public school building had “repeatedly been used by a wide variety of private organizations,” according to the court and there was “no realistic danger that the community” would think a church using the otherwise empty public school building meant the district “was endorsing religion or any particular creed.” Rather, any benefit to the religious institution was “no more than incidental.” In other words, it is completely lawful for churches to meet in public school buildings.

Later, the U.S. Supreme Court warned against public officials denying the use of taxpayer-funded facilities to religious institutions like churches, synagogues, or mosques based upon their religious viewpoint. School officials who target “particular views taken by speakers on a subject” blatantly violate the First Amendment. Instead, the Constitution requires public officials to follow “neutral criteria and evenhanded policies” as they extend benefits to the “broad and diverse” community groups seeking to utilize taxpayer-funded facilities.

Excluding churches because their millennia-old beliefs refuse to change in the face of cultural preferences popularized within the last decade may be fashionable but it is illegal.

It is also unfair. If any community group can rent a public school facility why exclude religious ones other than to be ideologically vindictive? Are churchgoers not taxpayers too? Do they not also have an interest in the community the school board represents and serves? Ideologically driven activists may not assert a secular monopoly over taxpayer-funded facilities.

The San Diego Unified School District should heed the directives of the U.S. Supreme Court: “The Free Exercise Clause [of the First Amendment] commits government itself to religious tolerance, and upon even slight suspicion that proposals for state intervention stem from animosity to religion or distrust of its practices, all officials must pause to remember their own high duty to the Constitution and to the rights it secures.”

Tolerance is so often demanded by activists against religious adherents, but just as rarely offered to the religious groups they stridently oppose—even when churches are hoping just to keep a public school’s lights on over the weekend.


Jeremy Dys

Jeremy Dys is senior counsel to First Liberty Institute, a nationwide religious liberty legal organization dedicated to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

@jeremydys


Read the Latest from WORLD Opinions

Colin J. Smothers | The PCUSA prepares to impose LGBTQ affirmation across the denomination

Ted Kluck | On Campus Crusade, pronoun hospitality, and when organizations get big

Jordan J. Ballor | The Vatican offers a timely corrective on contemporary sexuality

Nathan A. Finn | The NAIA’s transgender vote is a big win for female athletes

COMMENT BELOW

Please wait while we load the latest comments...

Comments