Lutheran Church of Hope

I lived in Valley Junction in West Des Moines, IA when Hillside Elementary was being built.  It seemed like a waste of money to me then as there were already two elementary schools in the area, and one early childhood center.  I’m sure there was a good reason for building it as West Des Moines Community Schools already owned the land there.   It has been long enough ago that I really don’t remember the rationale.  However shoddy work was done on the windows – I know it’s hard to believe taxpayer money would pay for shoddy work – and the windows leaked.

So the school district learns that the school will not be ready for another 8-10 weeks into the school year.  You can imagine the freak out session that occurred when they learned that piece of news.  Where to put the kids?  What building is large enough to accommodate the 600 kids who have now been displaced?

A solution was presented to the school district – Lutheran Church of Hope would allow them to use their building.  Honestly outside of church buildings there really aren’t any buildings large enough, at least ones that are not being used already on weekdays or need a ton of remodeling.  What a generous offer!  This isn’t the first time that a church has helped the school district out.  Valley Church in West Des Moines has offered space to Jordan Creek Elementary before as well.  It’s a win-win.  The schools get to use the church buildings, if not for free, then I’m sure for a reasonable price.  The churches are able to serve the community in a practical way.

Apparently this arrangement has the ACLU of Iowa concerned.  That isn’t surprising they’re always concerned, but what is surprising is how West Des Moines Community Schools responded when contacted by The Des Moines Register.

Ben Stone, executive director of the ACLU of Iowa, said officials with the school and the church need to take precautions to ensure students do not receive religious instruction or pressure.

“I think it’s important there be considerations for religious liberties of students and that no students be placed in a position where they’re going to be confronted with religious messages that really are not appropriate for the school setting,” Stone said.

School district spokeswoman Elaine Watkins-Miller said the need for those separations has been “clearly communicated” to the church.

“We have specifically stated to them the requirement for separation of church and state, and they have said they will make accommodations where they can,” she said.

That likely includes removing nonpermanent religious materials in hallways and classrooms where schoolchildren will be present, she said.

Ummm… whose building is it?  If you don’t like it don’t use the church building.  Instead of presenting demands to the church perhaps it would be best to shut up and just say, “thank you,” because they certainly didn’t need to offer up their space.  I’m sure it will also be inconvenient for their children’s and youth ministries while the school district is using the space.  Yes, heaven forbid that kids see posters with Bible verses on them and the like!  The horror!

The school district did not purchase the religious materials.  They are not giving religious instruction.  They may not even be paying for the space (I haven’t had the chance to call and ask).  The West Des Moines Community Schools and the ACLU of Iowa obviously have a warped view of the establishment clause in the First Amendment.

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  1. Well I assume after the 2 mass shootings we should all agree with them and teach them how Satin would handel this horrible situation?

  2. I disagree; both the ACLU and school district officials realize that any temporary space has to avoid overt religious messages.  The church owns the space, but if they want to rent it out, they need to meet the district’s requirements or yes, they WILL have to go elsewhere.

    1. You are making an assumption they are renting it out. This is doing a favor for the school district, not the other way around. I’m glad they said they would only comply “where they can.”

      You don’t seem to understand what “establishment” really means.

      1. “This is doing a favor for the school district, not the other way around.”

        That doesn’t matter; if the facilities aren’t what the school district requires, they literally cannot use it.

        “You don’t seem to understand what “establishment” really means.”

        The ACLU knows far better than you do.  How many court cases have you won on establishment grounds?

      2. Then I guess they can either be screwed or waste taxpayer money having to renovate a building that isn’t ready.  Tough.

        You last question is pointless.. I’m not a lawyer so I haven’t won any case.  Winning cases doesn’t mean they have a clue as to what the Founders actually intended.  It just means they found judges who are just as clueless to agree with them.  This should not be seen as establishing religion as the items have not been paid for with taxpayer money nor will there be any religious instruction.  The establishment clause has been continuously redefined since the 1960s to mean something the Founders never intended.  I’d argue what the school is demanding is in violation of the free exercise clause since it is the church’s building and they are still using it.  The school is a guest.

        This isn’t something we should even be arguing about.  If West Des Moines Community Schools are not renting the facility they have zero grounds to demand ANYTHING.

      3. Just a gentle nudge, Shane.  There is no free exercise violation here…as the religious speech/activity of the church isn’t being limited by law/government action in any way. The two parties are simply trying to agree to terms for the school to use a facility during daytime hours (whether rented or free). No one is forcing the church to do anything; they volunteered space and both sides are working in good faith to reach a deal in the best interest of students.  Even if they were unable to reach a deal, and the reason was the school was gunshy about Establishment violation, it wouldn’t be a Free Exercise violation.

        For example, if I enter a private business and see crucifixes on the wall that “offend” me, the fact that I decide not to do business or enter a contract with that person does not limit in any way their Free Exercise.

  3. I  agree with you Shane.  I think the church was kind to offer the church building to the school district.  The school district should be very thankful to the church.  Let the school district go somewhere else where the children won’t see the bible verses or Christian symbols.  Let the parents figure out a better space for the temporary school if they are offended by the Christian symbols.  how about a Wiccan building?

  4. It is sad that you didn’t take time to talk with any of the families who are directly affected by the situation, to find out that many of us are excited about having the school at Hope and are working diligently with school staff to make this a smooth transition for our children. The school district has done a nice job of getting information to parents quickly and the meetings held have been well attended and informative. Valley Church did the same for the classrooms the district used in that facility – the rooms were used on weekends for small groups, but there was very little, if any, overtly religious material on the walls of those rooms. Shane, if you want to discuss this with an actual Hillside parent, contact me and we’ll talk. This nonsense from the ACLU and grousing about the district will not help our students or teachers transition. It detracts from the real work being done by regular people who only want this to be a great school year for our children.

    1. Donna, I’m supportive of the move.  I think it was great to offer.  What the ACLU is doing is nonsense.  I know Hope will be accommodating, as Valley was (I remember that as I was a member there when it happened).  My “grousing” (not a good word to use to describe my comments) about the district is warranted by the comments made by their spokesperson.  It is unfortunate she decided to take the tone that she did.  This was not meant to be a slight against teachers, administrators,  and parents doing the work to make it happen, quite the contrary.

      That said, having lived in the District, I’m not quite as impressed with it as you are.  I also see this issue having larger implications beyond the school year.  So yes we are looking at this story from different perspectives, but by no means am I trying to be a distraction to the what your group is doing.

      1. Please accept my apology for use of the word “grousing”, it was inflammatory and your opinions have more value than that. Believe me, I am not all that impressed with this district (administration/Board), however I am impressed with my children’s teachers and the staff at Hillside. There is a time and place for demanding answers as to why there wasn’t an alternate plan in place if construction was delayed and why the district took so long to fix the problems, but that will be after the students are settled and the year begins.

  5. Numerous courts have held that public school students must be instructed in learning environments that are free of symbolry that favors one religion over another or religion over non-religion. Similarly, numerous courts have held that public school graduation ceremonies can’t be held in religious buildings because of the symbolry that is present. In what may be the closest case on point, Agostini v. Felton (instruction by public school teachers in private sectarian classrooms), the classrooms were purged of religious symbolry as part of the public school district-sectarian school agreement.

    So I think it’s wonderful that the Lutheran Church of Hope offered its space. But I understand why the West Des Moines Schools (and the ACLU) are saying that they can’t accept the offer without removal of religious symbolry.

  6. That preaches, brother. Well stated. The ACLU needs to die on the right hills. This hill is not even there.

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