A church was wrongly accused of violating ‘separation of church and state’ for renting space from local school district. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
A Massachusetts church is accused of violating the separation of church and state because it rents space from the local school district.
Town leaders of Southbridge, Massachusetts have raised concerns about Iglesia Casa de Destino’s rented use of a public school in its town. The church pays the standard rate to use the school’s auditorium once per week, like many churches do across the country. But, the church is known in the community for its conservative, religious beliefs.
One of the town councilmen is openly questioning whether the church should have a standing agreement to use the property. Not only is the building expensive to operate, the councilman suggested that the agreement could violate the so-called separation of church and state.
Well, not likely. The Supreme Court has twice upheld the practice. A town is, of course, under no obligation to rent its facility to anyone. But, historically, publicly owned schools have been used and rented by a variety of organizations, including churches. Once a school district decides that it will rent its facilities to the community, it would be unlawful religious discrimination to prevent churches from renting the space.
As the Supreme Court observed in the 1981 decision of Widmar v. Vincent, “The Constitution forbids a State to enforce certain exclusions from a forum generally open to the public, even if it was not required to create the forum in the first place.”