Church in school


US Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in 1947 explained in his opinion in Everson v. Board of Education that a government “establishes” a religion in violation of the First Amendment when it’s “set[ting] up a church,” and aiding any religion; Justice Black cautioned that “the wall [separating church and state] must be kept high and impregnable” against even “the slightest breach.”

In past years, around December, we discussed whether we may have crèches, menorahs, and symbols of religious worship displayed on public common grounds when seeking to skirt this prohibition.

We haven’t, however, spent an instant in public dialogue with the county school superintendent, school board or board of supervisors about whether we have been violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment when we have transformed our schools into houses of religious worship on “the Lord’s Day.”

About 40% of our public schools (34 out of 87 schools) in Loudoun County host Masses and religious worship every Sunday.

The gyms, cafeterias and libraries in our public schools have served as the nave and transept for various church denominations going back 12 years or more.  We’ve had these religious services without a murmur of inquiry or dissent, and now suffer from an inertial indifference to question what’s become an unquestioned practice – “don’t rock the boat” – “after all, the services are not during regular school hours” – “the churches pay to lease the space you know” – even though the established practice appears wholly unconstitutional.

It’s time to declare that religious worship is an impermissible use of our public schools.

Weeks ago, I noticed a large sign roadside in front of the Harmony Middle School east of Purcellville, inviting the public to join the “Grace Bible Church, Sundays 10 am, [at] Harmony Middle School.”  The Bible Church’s web site published the same invitation – . Pastor Jordan greeted his congregants at services “to God’s worship” -( )

The Harmony principal said he’d approved the Bible Church’s worship in accordance with school policy.  As indicated, Harmony is only one of the County’s schools hosting religious worship.

Some jurisdictions take great pains to ban religious worship in the public schools so that they won’t breach the constitutional barrier designed to separate church from state action.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in 2011, in the case, Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education, upheld New York’s ban against religious worship in its public schools because “the conduct of a ‘religious worship service’ has the effect of placing centrally, and perhaps even of establishing, the religion in the school.”  The Court found further that “allowing the conduct of religious worship services in schools would give rise to a sufficient appearance of endorsement to constitute a violation of the establishment clause.”

The Supreme Court earlier, in 1971, established a three-fold “test” in Lemon v. Kurtzman to decide whether a government’s interaction with religion violated the establishment clause.  It is indicative of “establishment” when the disputed practice is religious rather than secular, when the practice advances religion, and, finally, when the government is entangled with the religious practice.

In Loudoun County the Churches that use public school space are holding “church services” and collecting “donations.”  This use advances religious worship, and thus religion.  The government is plainly entangled when it’s hosting religious worship not in one or two schools but in 40% of all the County’s public schools.

It’s past the time when we should have stopped this unconstitutional “establishment” of religious worship in our public schools.

See my full report here: REPORT_CHURCH IN SCHOOL_by_J_Flannery_12_8_14

7 thoughts on “Church in school

  1. John Flannery

    Thomas, the letter “you” sent to the Danbury Baptists that used the term separation of state and religion was not law when it was written, and those words are not in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution but the Supreme Court of the United States invoked those words in a Supreme Court decision and that is the law. As for hating religion you are dead wrong. I’m an Irish Roman Catholic who has believed his whole life long that our government has no business in our religious beliefs and I believe Thomas Jefferson and the Courts got that right. You might prefer it were some other way but that’s the law and, like it or not, we ignore it at our own peril. You slander me therefore when you judge my beliefs or motives. You also defy scripture that says judge not lest ye be judged.

  2. John Flannery

    Ron, the public makes decision how to use government properties but they are constrained by the law. You and I and 80,000 others might agree we want to do something but we may not do it if there’s a constitutional or statutory prohibition that says we can’t. Not unless we change the constitution or the law. There are a lot of things religious organizations can do in schools that are permissible but the activity of a church service is not one of them according to federal appellate court decisions that say so.

  3. John Flannery

    Travis, the way to look at the Bronx Household of Faith case is that, if the federal circuit court upheld the ban against an activity that was religious worship, as opposed to other first amendment expressions by religious organizations that are permissible, then such activities are violative of the first amendment’s establishment clause or the ban in place in ny could not be upheld. Truth be told the establishment clause has narrowed in recent years with the changing membership of the Supreme Court and an earlier Kennedy appointee to the Supreme Court, Justice White, characterizing what he thought was religious expression, was treated as speech. Well I accept that’s the law. But the specific conduct I’ve identified is proscribed and the Supreme Court as of this instant rejected one opportunity to reconsider the appellate court’s holding.

  4. Ron

    They are called “Public” schools because they were supposed to belong to the public. The public that funded them made the decisions. I assume you believe that they are “Sate” schools and thus the state should govern them. BTW, in the 1000’s of instances of schools renting their facilities to churches, I have yet to see one incident of the church involved affecting school operation in any way other than providing additional operating funds for the school.

  5. Thomas Jefferson

    My letter to the Danberry Baptist Association is not now – nor was it ever – the law.
    Study hard, son! You have a long road ahead.
    The “establishment clause” is not violated by dual use of public facilities and your hatred of God reveals your black heart.
    Maybe you ought to get yourself into both the Bible AND a good school of law.

    Thos. Jefferson

    p.s. Maybe you need to turn on the light bulb in your head

  6. TravisW

    John, if I understand your argument correctly you seem to claim that just by allowing worship services in our public schools we run afoul of the constitution. With respect I don’t follow the reasoning. The Bronx Household of Faith case you cite was with regard to an existing prohibition to religious services within public schools and as you point out the 2nd Circuit found that prohibition permissible. You also correctly found that Loudoun County does not have a similar existing prohibition. Where you seem to lose me is when I think you confuse a permissible prohibition with a required one.

    I think what we need here is additional research to see if the churches are receiving preferential treatment or if other groups are being unfairly disadvantaged. There are a number of cases throughout the U.S. where churches were not actually being charged for their rentals or were able to leave up their materials and advertisements throughout the whole week in view of the students. These are far more overt establishment issues and may one day move the community against the practice. With 40% of Loudoun schools being used for religious services I suspect that at least a few are not doing so in a completely constitutional fashion.

    Finally, I’ll want to say thank you for the effort you’ve put into this so far. This is something that should be discussed and I was completely unaware of until I saw you mention it to Superintendent Williams. The number of schools involved is surprising and I do believe that there is more to learn.

  7. David Dickinson

    Have you considered the environmental repercussions of your actions?

    If successful, and these 35 or so religious organizations then go and build 35 different churches, that would necessitate the loss of likely thousands of additional destroyed trees in the County as well as a massive carbon footprint increase to build dozens of additional structures that hardly get used but once a week.

    Not a sermon, just a thought….

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