Education Editorial: Church and State

By: Bill Bosher - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - On February 24th, a federal district court determined that the New York City Board of Education could not prohibit Bronx Household of Faith from holding religious services in one of its public schools.

The Board's move to evict 160 church groups for holding worship services was based on the frequently argued and perhaps grossly misinterpreted "wall of separation" -- never referenced in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. While the long battle had been focused on the First Amendment provision that protects speech, the New York City School Board was routinely testing to determine if religious services were being held.

In an interesting twist, the court decided to look at the free exercise and establish clauses of the First Amendment. In common sense terms the free exercise provision ensures that the government cannot stop anyone from expressing his or her religious belief. The establishment clause simply says that the state is prohibited from establishing a religion, as England had done. Now, how has this become so difficult?

And in one of the most unlikely and "progressive" (that is legal code for liberal) courts in the country, we find an opinion that says that the government may not try to determine that a religious service is being conducted and subsequently hoist them off of the premises if they are. While school divisions in our area have in the past had policies that similarly prohibited "worship" services, most now accommodate what the first amendment protects -- speech and freedom of religion. You never know where Divine intervention may strike next!

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