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Featured When is a church activity "secular"?

Discussion in 'General Religious Debates' started by 9-10ths_Penguin, Apr 20, 2017.

  1. 9-10ths_Penguin

    9-10ths_Penguin 1/10 Riboflavin
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    Apparently, it depends on whether it's government funding or government regulation that's on the line.

    The US Supreme Court is currently hearing a case about a church that was denied a grant by the state of Missouri for upgrades to the playground used by its daycare and pre-school:

    Neil Gorsuch takes backseat as supreme court weighs church-state separation

    Contrast this with another recent Supreme Court case - also involving a Lutheran church - where the church argued that the duties of a fourth-grade teacher made her a "religious leader" and should therefore be exempt from normal protections of employment law:

    Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission - Wikipedia

    Anyone want to make the case for why a teacher at a church-run school would be "religious", but the playground at a church-run school would be "secular"?

    Bonus question: if a church pre-school's playground is a "secular activity" because it's open to the public a few months a year, what other things associated with a church are "secular activities"?
     
  2. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    It's an interesting case, one that deserves more thought than I have given it so far, but I can't help being somewhat sympathetic to the Church.
     
  3. bobhikes

    bobhikes infinitologist
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    The question about Cheryl Perch was whether she could be protected and it boiled down to was she a minister or not. The supreme courted decided she was a minister and thereby couldn't process the civil suit. From the different sites I read, it is a hard to define what a minister actually is but if you are defined as a minister, priest or such you are no longer secular.

    The playground is not secular because there are no religious rules against playing on it. It is only closed during school so the school has access to it and not specifically for a religious reasons.
     
  4. sunrise123

    sunrise123 The sea remains the sea whatever the drop thinks
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    This whole area is a legal mess with a lot of hair-splitting over what is or is not acceptable. One thing that churches sometimes ignore is that to take government money is to open up to government regulation of religious activity and another set of hair splitting lawsuits.

    We'd be better off if churches did their own thing with their own money.
     
  5. 9-10ths_Penguin

    9-10ths_Penguin 1/10 Riboflavin
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    If the school is religious, then its use of the playground is religious... no?
     
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  6. bobhikes

    bobhikes infinitologist
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    No not at all, play grounds are not defined by religion. If the school only allowed its member's or member's of it religion to use the park then the park would be non-secular. By not having any rules other than when the school is in session it is a public park.

    Local government schools in my town have the same arrangement. During school hours the fenced in park is used by the school non-school member's are not allowed, when the school is not in session the park is open to everyone. We have tennis courts that have the same rules. Weirdly the football field and lacrosse fields are not allowed to be used by anyone but the school and yet they publicly raised money to fix them in the last 5 years.
     
  7. columbus

    columbus Conservative Catholic from Hell

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    Ha ha ha! How ironic!
    A bunch of Lutherans fired her because she was a Lutheran Minister.

    Tom
     
  8. 9-10ths_Penguin

    9-10ths_Penguin 1/10 Riboflavin
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    Even then, it might be secular. There are plenty of playgrounds that are for the exclusive use of the students of an attached preschool. This doesn't automatically mean that the playground is secular. It would depend on the larger context.

    Who said the church has no rules for the playground? The article said that it's open to the public in the summer. It didn't say that the church has no rules at all for the playground when the public is using it.

    The distinction matters less when it's a secular school board renting the factility from a secular government. The use is going to be secular no matter what the details are.

    I also suspect that you're describing cases where the park or playground is owned by the secular government but other groups periodically get permission for exclusive use... which is really the opposite case to what we're talking about here.
     
  9. 9-10ths_Penguin

    9-10ths_Penguin 1/10 Riboflavin
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    I think it's more that they fired her because of her disability, and this was okay because she was a Lutheran minister.
     
  10. Skwim

    Skwim Veteran Member

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    And because it then serves an exclusive church function, I believe it qualifies as a piece religious school furnishing as anything else in its "classroom." If nothing else in the preschool/day care qualifies for government funded upgrades then I don't see how the playground can. No doubt the playground was constructed with church funds to serve the preschool/day kids, and as such is as much a part of the church's property as is its alter. That the church chooses to open it up to the public at other times is only incidental to its original purpose. A church certainly can't expect government funding to help upgrade its gathering room just because it lets Boy Scout Troop 554 use it on Monday nights.

    .
     
  11. columbus

    columbus Conservative Catholic from Hell

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    Oh I understand that. It's the deep irony of their Christian practices I am laughing at.
    Tom
     
  12. 9-10ths_Penguin

    9-10ths_Penguin 1/10 Riboflavin
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    I agree. Any other time an employer singled out a "religious minister" for firing, they'd be up in arms, but it's somehow okay when a church does it.
     
  13. Quintessence

    Quintessence Tale Weaver
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    An inevitable consequence of setting up a dichotomy of "religious" and "secular" is it ends up defining what "religious" looks like in such a way that acknowledges only some particular religious establishment. In the case of the United States, the standard is nearly always drawn based on some sort of Christian (or at the very least Abrahamic) frame of reference. I think that's a problem. I also don't see any way around it, other than to recognize the way in which we construct the false dichotomy of "secular" and "religious" is thoroughly biased and come up with an entirely different way of managing different interest groups. I don't know what that other way is.
     
  14. beenherebeforeagain

    beenherebeforeagain Rogue Animist
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    To avoid the conflict, what the church in this case should have done or should do is create a nonprofit daycare as a subsidiary organization, with a board of directors that includes at least a couple of community members. Many churches do this if they provide any services for the community, including have a food bank, providing meals, daycare, counseling (psychological or social).

    Now the laws about this vary from state to state, but existing law in many states already covers situations such as the daycare in the OP.
     
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  15. 9-10ths_Penguin

    9-10ths_Penguin 1/10 Riboflavin
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    I favour just ignoring - for the purposes of the law - whether an activity is "religious" or not.

    Freedom of religion is just one particular expression of other larger rights anyhow. If we ignore religion but uphold everyone's right to freedom of speech, assembly, conscience, etc., freedom of religion will be upheld as a matter of course... all without the state ever having to pass judgement on what is and isn't a "religious activity" or a "religious organization."

    Normally, it would be no skin off my nose whether the Lutheran Church wants to consider a private school teacher a "religious minister" or not. It only becomes my concern because it has implications under the law.
     
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  16. 9-10ths_Penguin

    9-10ths_Penguin 1/10 Riboflavin
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    I imagine that the cost to create this subsidiary, sever the playground from the rest of the church property, and transfer ownership of the playground to the subsidiary would greatly exceed the value of the grant they're hoping to get to upgrade the playground surface.

    Of course, I'd probably think the same about launching a Supreme Court challenge, so maybe the church would go for it after all.

    Edit: another possible wrinkle: is Missouri one of the states that exempts church-run daycares from normal requirements? I wonder if separating things the way you suggest would kill that exemption for them.
     
  17. bobhikes

    bobhikes infinitologist
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    @9-10ths_Penguin
    The churches opening statement

    From
    Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer

    “This is about working together to help keep our kids safe when they play—wherever they play. The safety of all children should matter to all of us. Most of the children who come to our preschool are from families who don’t go to our church. And a lot of children who play on our playground are from the surrounding neighborhood; they come with their families in the evening and on weekends.

    “We aren’t asking for special treatment. We are just asking to not be treated worse than everyone else. Whether you are a Jewish, Muslim, or Christian kid, or not religious at all, when you fall down on a playground, it hurts just as much at a religious preschool as it does at a non-religious one. We trust and pray that the Supreme Court will consider that carefully, and rule in favor of the safety of children everywhere. Thank you.”

    It seems they allow public access every day of the week.
     
  18. BSM1

    BSM1 Who's a good boy?

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    As a side note (and I realize it's not exactly what we're talking about) but I have done installations in churches over the years and had to decide if my installation was part of the service (non-tax) or part of the building (taxed). There was so much gray area that the state finally just threw up it's hands and declared anything that did not physically go inside a wall was non-taxed.
     
  19. bobhikes

    bobhikes infinitologist
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    I would like to comment that I don't agree with the Luthern's churches decision but unfortunately Judges can't use common sense and must use defined law.
     
  20. LuisDantas

    LuisDantas Aura of atheification
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    I don't think so.

    I have still to meet a proper justification for any government to declare whether anything is religious.

    There should never be specific provisions for either government or law to enable or discourage religious activity simply because it is (claimed to be) religious. Such a judgement call is both inherently arbitrary and inimical to fairness.

    The proper scope for distinctions between the religious and the secular is definitely at the personal level.
     
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