One of the specious arguments that the New York City has repeatedly made is that it is “subsidizing” churches by allowing them to meet in the public schools. That argument runs something like this: Because it would cost a lot of money for a church to hold its worship services, in say, Madison Square Gardens or the Ritz Carlton in Battery Park than in a NYC public school, that difference is a subsidy to religion. We have repeatedly countered that deficient argument by pointing out that the NYC school officials set the rate and that it is a uniform rate that all community groups pay. The only money changing hands is from the pocket of the churches to the hands of the school district. Religious groups receive no special discount or preferential deal.
After listening to pastors speak at a press conference in Albany, I now realize that there is another argument that shoots down the “subsidy” nonsense. Factually, the churches are subsidizing the NYC schools, not the other way around! The NYC school officials tell only part of the story, and do not admit or reveal that churches have voluntarily spent large amounts of money to help the public schools!
For example, churches have banded together to paint the interiors of at least 16 NYC public schools. The churches brought in volunteer labor that painted classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, etc., during July and August when school was out of session. These Christians volunteered hundreds, if not thousands of man hours for free to the public schools. The improved appearance of the school maintains the physical facility, but also creates a better environment for students to learn. I have never heard any NYC school officials talk about how all of this volunteer labor offsets the alleged “subsidy” the public schools “give” the churches by allowing them to pay the permit fee to meet in the schools.
And this is not the only example. New Frontier Church, a predominantly Korean church meeting in a public school in the Chelsea area of Manhattan, donated computers and air conditioning units to the schools. Another church in Staten Island leaves its musical instruments and sound equipment for the teachers and students to use during the week. There are other examples like these of churches donating directly to the schools, not in some subversive way to “convert” students or officials, but to be good neighbors. The Christians who painted the NYC schools during the summer were simply doing good deeds to bless the schools, without gaining any opportunity to “convert” kids (painting schools in July and August when the schools are closed means the kids are not there). I commend the churches for doing this, and I chide the school officials for not mentioning any of this when they make their dubious claim that NYC is “subsidizing” churches.
Also, I listened on Monday to pastor after pastor describing what their churches do for the communities. Rather than acting secretly to ”take over the public schools,” as conspiracy-minded secularists claim, these Christians move into neighborhoods full of crime, drugs, poverty, hunger and gang violence and reach out to those in need. These churches do not take money from the government, but use their own money to help those in need – getting people off of drugs, teaching them to read, helping them to parent their children and strengthen their marriages, etc. And these church members send their kids to these schools, too, because they are part of the community.
Let’s imagine if those churches totally disappeared after the school officials evict them from the schools. It would cost the NYC government millions of taxpayer dollars to duplicate the programs that these churches operate all with private donations and volunteers! So NYC is getting a really great return on its alleged “investment.” By allowing motivated Christians to meet in vacant school buildings, NYC and its people receive far more in return. And this is not even mentioning the intangible benefits the City receives by public schools that are easier to operate because of increasing numbers of people whose lives and familes have become stabilized and filled with hope by churches loving them and teaching them from the Bible.
When one looks at the complete picture, I think it is more accurate to say that the NYC churches are subsidizing the NYC public schools more than the schools are “subsidizing” the churches by allowing them to meet in the school buildings for their worship services.