Friday, July 22, 2011

More and More Churches Having Services In Public Places

Churches are holding worship services in public places with greater regularity than some might think. It is not uncommon today to see portable church signs outside public buildings and schools on Sundays.

Thousands of believers today are gathering more often in public schools, skating rinks, parks and empty buildings to avoid the financial burden.

As additional housing opens and property rental fees go up, churches often rent non-traditional spaces until they can build a permanent facility or develop a congregation large enough to support one.

However, some Americans continue to fight over the place of religion making the debate between church and state one of the more recent battlegrounds in the public forum.

Critics, including the courts, are concerned that making arrangements for churches to worship in public places is unconstitutional.

One such case involves a religious group in New York’s Bronx borough that is fighting to use a local school for Sunday religious services.

New York City officials recently said churches that meet in public schools must leave by the end of the school year. The announcement is bringing the issue back into the news again.

The decision came after the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled 2-1 last month that churches meeting in schools are unconstitutionally converting the schools into state-sponsored Christian churches, basically barring worship services from public buildings.

Some church advocates worry that the decision will spread to other parts of the country and prohibit church planters from keeping their doors open to Christians.

The justices wrote that it is "reasonable for the board to fear that allowing schools to be converted into churches might foster an excessive government entanglement with religion that advances religion."

Meanwhile, the Alliance Defense Fund, the Christian legal group representing the Bronx church, says it is appealing the court's ruling.

"Religious groups, including churches, shouldn't be discriminated against simply because they want to rent a public building just like other groups can," ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence said in a statement.

"The idea that people of faith may be singled out for discrimination is flagrantly contrary to the U.S. Constitution," he said. "The 2nd Circuit greatly erred by not putting an end to the board's continued defiance of the First Amendment."

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