Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Neighbor questions church’s use of school

October 1, 2013


Most days, people driving past Liberty Memorial Central Middle School at 14th and Massachusetts Street would easily recognize the building as a public school.

But on Sunday mornings, a large banner is tethered to the pillars of the school building to advertise that on that day, it is also a place of worship for a local congregation called the Vintage Church, and at least one local resident has questioned whether that's constitutional.

"It seems wrong that a church is holding service at a taxpayer funded, public school," Tandis Bidgoli, an east Lawrence resident, said in an email to the Journal-World. "I don't have a problem with churches, just not in our public schools."

But school district officials say there is nothing unconstitutional about it, and they cite at least two federal court cases from the 1980s that say it's not about the government establishing a religion, but about allowing free speech.

"If the school board allows outside community groups to use school buildings, and it does, the district cannot discriminate against a particular group's use of a facility because of its philosophies, ideas or opinions," district spokeswoman Julie Boyle said. "The First Amendment prohibits discrimination against a group based on the content of its speech."

One of the cases the district cited was a 1983 case involving the Shawnee Mission school district in which a federal court in Kansas said that allowing a church to use facilities on the same basis as any other group does not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Bidgoli, however, said she was especially concerned about the church being allowed to hang a sign on the school building.

"It's a pretty prominent sign," she said. "There are children in the neighborhood who are probably confused by that when they go by it."

Boyle said the contract between the church and the school does not contain any provision about signage. But Deacon Godsey, lead pastor of the church, said he had not heard any complaints about it.

"It's a temporary sign," Godsey said. "We put it up with bands and ropes 45 minutes before the service and take it down about 15 minutes after."

Godsey described Vintage Church as a nondenominational congregation with a little more than 200 members that has been meeting at the school regularly for about three years.

"I came on staff in 2011, and they'd been meeting there for a year before that," Godsey said.

Before that, he said, the church had met at the Lawrence Arts Center and, before that, on the Kansas University campus.

Boyle said the district charges different rental rates for different groups, depending on the amount of time they need, whether the event will require overtime costs for custodial staff, and whether the group is a non-profit or for-profit organization.

She said that under the current contract, which runs from July 2013 to June 2014, the church pays $430 for each meeting.

Currently, Boyle said, no other churches rent school facilities on a regular basis, although some occasionally use them for specific events such as basketball tournaments or youth club meetings.

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Glenn Reed 4 years, 8 months ago

Given the fact that the facility would otherwise be empty, I don't see any problem with this. If there was evidence of preferential treatment, there might be.

jafs 4 years, 7 months ago

It would be interesting to see if other religious groups, like Muslims, were equally easily able to use the school, I think.

My first guess is that it wouldn't be by a long shot.

Lisa Medsker 4 years, 7 months ago

My son said, "Fine. They can use my school for church. I'm going to go teach a Science class and conduct some physics experiments in their Church."

Thought that was awesome!

Frightwig 4 years, 7 months ago

They might welcome it! I went to a religious grade school and we had a science fair on the church property every year. I remember doing a presentation on electromagnets one year. I think I also did a presentation on volcanoes at some point.

Lisa Medsker 4 years, 7 months ago

Depends on the church and its dogma, I suppose, as to whether it would be welcome or not. I went to a Catholic High School. We had one Priest who used to get very excited about Physics, and Big Bang, and the study of antimatter... "SCIENCE! It WILL save Mankind! It is not against God, God and Science are not at odds! They NEED each other!" He was of the Franciscan Order. We also had a Jesuit, though, who freaked out any time you proposed an idea that might have been considered "Heresy", like, oh, Big Bang Theory.

Paul R Getto 4 years, 7 months ago

This is proper, good community service and legal.

Rex Hargis 4 years, 7 months ago

I find it difficult to believe that children attending middle school would be confused by the sign posted on Sundays. If they are, a simple question to their parents should be enough to clear up the confusion.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 7 months ago

Maybe they don't know the meaning of "Vintage", and that is what might confuse them.

FarleyM 4 years, 7 months ago

As long as they are not associated with the Taxed Enough Already Party, I don't see why not.

Besides, Martin Luther King was a Reverend, and he is celebrated every year in public schools.

FarleyM 4 years, 7 months ago

Yes. It is sad to watch his religious defamation.

hillsandtrees 4 years, 7 months ago

When our church was in the early stages of forming, we used a local school on Sunday mornings for services. I know we had to pay the school district for the use - the cover janitor, utilities, etc.

Alpenglow 4 years, 7 months ago

One person complains and you make a big story out of it, Peter. Seriously? Much ado about nothing. I'm annoyed because there was only one person working the box office at the movies on Saturday and the line was really long. I expect to see an investigative story on this immediately!

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 7 months ago

Maybe there was no other news to report. That people were willing to talk about, anyway.

fu7il3 4 years, 7 months ago

Children are probably confused by it? Seriously? Why do people always try to pull kids into the things they themselves don't like?

dinglesmith 4 years, 7 months ago

Bzzzzt. You are wrong. The antiestablishment clause and the freedom clause are in the amendments as you state. However, this clause:

"[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

appears in Article 6. You really should read something before you start telling people what it does and does not say.

akt2 4 years, 7 months ago

Some people should just grow up and not worry about what goes on Sunday mornings in the building if it doesn't involve them. It might be a public school, but it is also a public building. I doubt that this complainer even has a child. If the person did, they would have more important things to worry about than a sign.

DrQuack 4 years, 7 months ago

Very well put, UltimateGrownup! You not only write well, you have good common sense.

oldbaldguy 4 years, 7 months ago

some folks have too much time on their hands. such as us commenting about this and the lady who made the inquiry. absolutely nothing wrong with this.

MarcoPogo 4 years, 7 months ago

"some folks have too much time on their hands. such as us commenting about this..."

...he comments in the Comment Section.

brutus 4 years, 7 months ago

Church services used to be held it the old Kaw Valley School, Wakarusa Valley, and more recently at South Middle. It is nothing new.

Hooligan_016 4 years, 7 months ago

Wow, and the headline out of a certain Kansas City "news" radio station is "Controversy explodes in Lawrence over a church using a school!"

Nope, no hyperbole there at all.

foxli 4 years, 7 months ago

I would have been uncomfortable with this if they weren't paying rent, but since they're covering expenses, and it's not during school hours (obviously), I don't have a problem with it.

I went to school in Olathe and they do a similar thing. I didn't like it as a student, but now I know that these organizations are compensating the district for costs.

gmanobmo 4 years, 7 months ago

I'm okay with this especially if it's a way for the school to collect some easy additional funds.

However, would it be okay if some Muslims wanted to do the same thing?

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 7 months ago

Part of living in a democracy is learning to live with things you don't like but that are legal.

Christians especially need to learn this lesson.

BitterClinger 4 years, 7 months ago

This is a Constitutional Republic not a Democracy; rule of law not majority rules.

Looking at some of your past posts perhaps you also need to learn that lesson.

kansanbygrace 4 years, 7 months ago

Democracy is a principle--"People govern" It is the foundation for virtually all systems of representative government. A Constitutional Republic is one form of government that a democratic nation may establish. There are several others.

In principle, we are a liberal democracy, Our governing form is a Constitutional Republic. No need to continue the error that they are not both accurately describing the same thing.

patkindle 4 years, 7 months ago

I know it is all about freedom of religion .but lots of folks are getting tired of these religions that want to take over with their own doctrines and laws .

jafs 4 years, 7 months ago

I know.

These darned Christians keep trying to take over our government!

It's very tiring.

gatekeeper 4 years, 7 months ago

As long as they're paying rent, cool. Make some money for the district.

What I'm sick of are the church's coming around and trying to get me to come to their church, leaving fliers, etc.... If I want to go to church, I will. I don't need to be bothered at home by congregations telling me why I need to come to their church. I consider it harassment. The church I attended growing up never did that.

patkindle 4 years, 7 months ago

I do not believe any Christians are causing any problems the problems seem to be from non christians, as far as this young lady I think she has too much time on her hands, and has more important things to focus on

tomatogrower 4 years, 7 months ago

I don't have any problem with this if they are paying for the facilities, and as long as they don't try to push their church on any students by leaving flyers behind.

bearclaws 4 years, 7 months ago

Readers question reporter's use of time.

Bob Forer 4 years, 7 months ago

A non-issue. They pay rent. They put the sign up before services and take it down afterwards. Folks, find some real issues to deal with.

Kathy Theis-Getto 4 years, 7 months ago

Yup, but this means the Phelps clan could also rent the building, or any other religious group.

bearded_gnome 4 years, 7 months ago

"It seems wrong that a church is holding service at a taxpayer funded, public school," Tandis Bidgoli, an east Lawrence resident, said in an email to the Journal-World. "I don't have a problem with churches, just not in our public schools."

---why is this in the paper at all? nonissue, except one uncivil leftist joining David guth and Megan May (of manhattan, who put down members of the military).

verity 4 years, 7 months ago

Did I miss something? How do you know that the person objecting is a leftist? Or just another gratuitous swipe at "leftists and liberals"?

I am as left/liberal as they come and an atheist. I believe in freedom---of religion and from religion. If this group is paying the same rent as everybody else and not disobeying any laws, then there is no problem.

Apparently you have a problem though, with their brand of religion not being Christian enough by your definition. I have the freedom to not have to make that distinction.

jafs 4 years, 7 months ago

Yes, a gratuitous swipe.

And, where's the "uncivil" nature of the complaint/question? I didn't see anything like that in the story.

verity 4 years, 7 months ago

Circular reasoning, perhaps? It must have been a leftist because only a leftist would question such a thing and because it was a leftist, it was by definition uncivil.

bearded_gnome 4 years, 7 months ago

and, as a practicing christian, I would add I wouldn't recommend this church to christians. .

But they have our charished freedom to worship just as muslims do in our country.

Michael Rowland 4 years, 7 months ago

What a stupid little non-issue from someone who wants a meager 15 minutes of fame. Vintage pays rent. They aren't there on the public dime. If they weren't renting the school then the building would probably stand empty on Sundays, not making the school any additional money. The sign is temporary and comes down when not in use. It's a middle school, I doubt they'd be confused by a church's sign out in front of their school. If they're curious about it, then they can have a conversation with their parents about how freedom of religion means anyone can practice whatever religion they want and meet wherever they legally can so long as they do not impinge upon the freedom of others. And, yes, it would still be fine if Muslims wanted to rent the building, or Hindus, or Jews. Saying that it is ok for Christians to rent a school but not ok for Muslims is bigoted and goes against the freedom of religion. Get over yourselves.

jafs 4 years, 7 months ago

Sure, but do you think it would have been as easy for a Muslim group to rent space in the school?

I doubt it.

IreneAdler84 4 years, 7 months ago

Unless you have evidence of discrimination against Muslims, you are just condemning the school district for something you made up. I bet they would discriminate against space aliens and talking animals too, the ba$tards!

jafs 4 years, 7 months ago

I was merely speculating - do you have any examples of other religious groups using schools like this?

oldbaldguy 4 years, 7 months ago

why are we still talking about this, including me?

verity 4 years, 7 months ago

Generally children seem to be much smarter and more understanding than they are given credit for---and adults try to use them as an excuse for their own prejudices and lack of critical thinking.

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