May 18, 2024

What Would the Framers Think of Evicting Churches from NYC Schools?

A new court ruling has determined that churches can no longer rent public school facilities. Churches in New York City can be evicted from the schools. Despite the good they do in the community, they could be out in the cold.

Writing for “Facts & Trends” (4/3/14), Bob Smietana observes, “The 2-1 ruling from the Second Circuit Court is the latest twist in a long-running legal battle between the Bronx Household of Faith and the Board of Education of the City of New York.”

Indeed, this is not new. This is the latest decision in an on-going battle that the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has been fighting for years. In fact, I can remember interviewing Rev. Bob Hall, the church’s founding pastor, as far back as the 1990s on this case for a religious freedom TV special, hosted by the late Dr. D. James Kennedy.

Jordan Lorence, one of the ADF attorneys, fighting on behalf of the churches, said that the city officials trying to oust the churches are treating Christianity as if it were asbestos.

The amazing thing about all this is how contrary it is to our national spiritual heritage. Consider a short review.

First of all, the idea of schools for the masses, which eventually became public schools, is a result of the desire to teach the Bible. After about a dozen years after the Puritans founded Boston, they passed “the Old Deluder Satan Act.”

They stated that it is one of the chief ends of that “old deluder Satan” to keep people from the Word of God. Therefore, people need to read the Bible for themselves. Therefore, they need to read. Therefore, we need to have schools to teach them how to read. This is the origin of schools for the masses in the American experience.

America was founded by different colonists, the vast majority of whom came for religious freedom. They were all Christians of one stripe or another. They eventually learned to work together when Mother England threatened their rights.

When we became a country, we agreed that we would not allow any one denomination (all being Christian) to lord it over the others. The very first freedom guaranteed in the Bill of Rights was the freedom of religion. The framers wrote, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Liberals today talk about the “freedom of worship”—but, as we see in this case in New York, they don’t even grant that. Freedom of religion includes that of worship, but much more.

George Washington famously said in his Farewell Address that we can’t maintain national morality apart from religion. John Adams said our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people and will not work for any other.

But, someone might say, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison wouldn’t agree. They wanted to make sure that the state would be free from any corrupting influence of the church.

Oh really? When President Jefferson lived in Washington, DC, he regularly attended services at the US Capitol. Christian worship services were held there on Sunday mornings until the 1880s.

I also had the privilege of interviewing Dr. James H. Hutson of the Library of Congress about the founders and religion. He is the author of “Religion and the Founding of the American Republic” (published by the Library of Congress, 1998), as well as “The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations” (Princeton, 2005).

In the latter book, Hutson writes of Jefferson that he “‘constantly attended public worship’ in the House of Representatives, once riding through a cloudburst to arrive on time. In retirement he regularly patronized worship services at the Albemarle County Court House.” Hutson adds, “As president, James Madison followed Jefferson’s example by attending services in the House…”

Dr. Hutson notes that as Jefferson was on his way to church one Sunday, he was challenged as to why since he supposedly didn’t “believe a word in it.” Jefferson replied: “No nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I as chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example. Good morning, Sir.” (“The Founders on Religion,” pp. 192-193).

Only by divorcing ourselves from our nation’s true roots can courts come up with such decisions. Thankfully, the Alliance Defending Freedom (co-founded by the late Dr. Kennedy and others) is appealing this decision. The churches will continue—after all, we’re talking about the religion of the catacombs. But will New York City continue to feel the blessings they bring?