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When God and Politics
Take Over Public School Buildings

| April 26, 2010

Should they be brandishing in school buildings? (© FlaglerLive)

What church-state wall? Dominion Fellowship Church holds Sunday services at Rymfire Elementary school every Sunday. Palm Coast Christian Church does it at Buddy Taylor Middle School (in that new building between the middle and the elementary school). Lighthouse Bible Church calls Belle Terre Elementary home. The First AME Church of Palm Coast used to meet at Old Kings Elementary before it moved to the African-American Cultural Center. The Church on the Rock used to meet there too.

Beyond the reach of the gods, political groups too have made ample use of public buildings, including schools. The Flagler County Democratic Party met at the county’s Government Services Building in Bunnell. Just last week, the emerging Palm Coast Tea Party Movement held its third meeting in the cafeteria of Flagler Palm Coast High School. And that’s just a quick gleaning of political or religious groups that use local, public facilities to advance their ends, which may, but usually don’t, have anything to do with education.

Should public school facilities be used to those ends?

That’s the question the Flagler County School Board will address in a workshop on Tuesday at Bunnell’s Government Services building. The location of the meeting–the superintendent’s conference room on the third floor or the board chambers on the ground floor–will likely be determined by the size of the audience, which could turn the meeting into a spectacle. The board wouldn’t have taken on the question had it not been for that Tea Party meeting at the high school, which angered some of the few people, outside of hard-core Tea Party activists, aware that it was going on.

“As a taxpayer I was very upset that they were using public facilities, because to me they’re a hate group,” Rosalind Parneix, a Palm Coast resident, said shortly after addressing the school board on the matter last week. “I hate the signs that they use. I’m not saying that the Tea Party in Palm Coast does it, but I know what they do in Washington, with Obama with Nazi mustache, Obama as a communist… the pictures with Nazi death camps with Obama’s name on it. That’s what the Tea Party does. They can deny it, they say, ‘oh, it’s the media who does it.’ It’s not the media who does it. It’s them who do it.”

Tom Lawrence, chairman of the Flagler Tea Party Movement, ridicules the notion that his is a hate group. “We would not tolerate hate speech. We’re not about hate,” Lawrence said. “We’re about talking action, we’re about a group of citizens who feel they need some change.”

Lawrence’s Tea Party group held its third meeting at Flagler Palm Coast High School on April 20, the evening that Parneix and Dan Parham, chairman of the Flagler County Democratic Party Executive Committee, addressed the school board on community uses of school facilities. Parham had initially been opposed to Tea Party uses of the high school–until he learned that his own party had used the very public facility he was standing in, addressing the board. From that point on, he switched roles–from critic of the board’s allowances to protector. “Some of the people that contacted me wanted to demonstrate” against allowing Tea Party uses of the high school, Parham said. “But I don’t want to really put the county, city of Palm Coast and the schools in that position if I can help it.”

The Tea Party group drew 220 people at the April 20 meeting at the high school cafeteria. It drew 175 people at its March meeting, also at the cafeteria. In February, it drew some 100. That meeting was held at the Flagler Room of the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce. The room proved too small. So the group rented, for $70 an hour (including the custodial fee), the high school cafeteria for an hour and a half on the third Tuesday of every month.

It’s legal. The school district’s policy says so. Groups may not use school facilities to gamble or break laws or school board rules. That may get grayer than the school board acknowledges when politics and religion is involved, and when political passions turn hot. But the policy is intended to narrow the necessity of judgment calls as much as possible.

It may be a question of time, with Tea Party activists using school buildings, before groups like, say, the Nation of Islam or other organizations at least perceived to be radical decide to test their communities’ limits. That’s what the school board will try to anticipate in its workshop on Tuesday.

Flagler County School District Building Rental Frees

RoomRoom Types/UseRate per hour/staff charge
ClassroomFor meeting purposes only$20 per hour + $30 per hour custodial charges
Specialized roomBand, choral, media center, training rooms$35 per hour + $30 per hour custodial charges
Cafeteria / courtyardMeetings$35 per hour + $30 per hour custodial charges
Multi purpose roomMulti purpose$35 per hour + $30 per hour custodial charges
AuditoriumConcerts, large meetings$150 per hour + $30 per hour custodial charges
KitchenSet up / preparation
banquets, parties, etc.
$25 per hour + $30 per hour kitchen staff charges
GymnasiumPractice, league play, sporting events$40 per hour + $30 per hour custodial charges
Large parking lotsShows, large events$100 per hour + $30 per hour custodial charges
Small parking lotsShows, large events$50 per hour + $30 per hour custodial charges
Football fields / stadium
Striping, all fields
Supervision - 2 people
$300 per use
$120 per use
$100 per hour
$70 per hour
$50 per hour
FieldsBaseball, practice, soccer
$150 per use
$50 per hour
$50 per hour
Source: Flagler County School Board. Fee schedule adopted in 2008.
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8 Responses for “When God and Politics
Take Over Public School Buildings”

  1. daveriegel says:

    I am no lawyer, but I don’t think they CAN keep religious groups out unless they keep ALL community groups out, period.

    If you are going to allow the local Kiwanis club to meet there, you have to let the tea partiers also. No viewpoint discrimination allowed. That has always been my understanding.

  2. Jamie Abbott says:

    Wow It seems pretty dad gum cheap, its a great deal for churches no building maintenance full meeting place , perhaps a rate increase would be in order considering today’s cost of power and the obvious demand, but what are the stipulations that define the groups who may use the facilitys.

  3. Atilla says:

    The first post hit the point. Like the group or not the facilities are taxpayer supported and in my humble opinion should be available at a break even or cost offsetting profit to any group within the laws of the land. Democratic, Republican, Christian, Atheist should all be welcome.

  4. BW says:

    These are taxpayer buildings and as long as these events are not disrupting the educational environment and the expenses are being paid for, I think groups like these (religious and political) should be able to meet there. I am not a fan of the Tea Party group, but to each their own and I see no issue with them meeting there.

  5. starfarter says:

    can i have my”christians who still love rumor mills” meetings there?

  6. c. monroe says:

    It seems we forget we ALL pay taxes for these buildings. Meetings we had in them should not disrupt the purpose they were built for. On theother hand, these buildings are not being used 24-7. These groups help with the cost of these buildings. If these rents were added up in Flagler County, it would be ahuge amount. Each year these churches have to sign a contract with the schools for thousands of dollars in rent. We are grateful for this , but belive me having our own facility is wonderful. Years ago the one room schoolhouse was used for church on sunday and school all week. In a time when everyone wants to get the most for their tax money, this seems like the best answer for all of us-taxpayers-churches-political functions-home shows-etc.

  7. Pierre Tristam says:

    I agree with c. monroe in the main, especially considering the revenue the rentals bring in. But the direction the school board is currently taking–that if you offer public school facilities to one group, you must offer them to all–is based on a common misconception that happens to be constitutionally untenable (recent misguided Supreme Court rulings notwithstanding): If the school board were to open its schoolhouse doors to political or civil organizations, it’s true that it must open them to all.

    But it doesn’t follow that it would have to open them up to church or religious organizations, as it already does. It would be entirely in the school board’s legal rights to deny the use of school buildings to religious organizations specifically, because the First Amendment’s Establishment clause singles out religion, specifically prohibiting government from endorsing it in any way, while just as specifically prohibiting government from abridging any other form of speech. In essence, from a constitutionally Scalian perspective, it doesn’t get any more black and white than this: all political and cultural and civic and whatever else sort of groups must be given access to the school house as part of its community functions, but religious organizations must specifically be barred from the same access. Of course, we’re not there either constitutionally or locally. Churches’ use of Flagler school buildings isn’t in question, while political uses are–an ironic reversal that the Flagler school board is about to ratify in its rewritten policy and handbook controlling those uses.

  8. P Kelly says:

    Without quoting the opinion of any legal scholar, or using the phrase “separation of church and state”; can someone please ‘splain to me how “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion…” bars a local school board from renting its facilities to a religious organization? How about the prohibition of a student-led prayer prior to an football game?

    I think it’s a hell of a lot easier to understand how barring of such activity is a violation of the the part of the First Amendment that seems to be so often forgotten – “or prohibiting the free excercise thereof.”

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