C-R vote allows churches in school


By Jim Poole

Congregations can hold religious services in Cobleskill-Richmondville buildings, the school board decided last week.
The ruling didn't come easily, however, as the seven-member board split four to three on the controversial topic.
At issue was whether the Fusion Community Church could continue to use the high school for services on Sundays.
Under the new policy, the Fusion Church can continue at the high school, assuming the school board approves the application and the congregation has no other site to hold services.
Also, the policy stipulates that congregations may use school buildings for no longer than six months.
Allowing temporary use and "being a good neighbor" were reasons board member Dan Schulte advocated the policy, which was drawn up by school attorney Mike West.
"If we allow it with limitations, and the key is that it's an emergency and it's only six months," Mr. Schulte said.
"Six months and they're done. We're helping a neighbor."
School board President Bruce Tryon agreed that C-R should be a good neighbor, with Vice President Jeff Foote adding that "six months is reasonable."
Board member Maureen Nicholas voted with Mr. Schulte, Mr. Tryon and Mr. Foote.
The issue surfaced in January, when board member Steve Philbrick objected to Fusion's services in the high school. After debating, board members decided to wait till the end of the school year to see whether state legislators acted on the church-in-school issue.
The legislature didn't, but the school board picked up the debate at the first meeting of the new school year.
Mr. Philbrick's position hadn't changed since January.
"I don't think we should be allowing religious services in school," he said. "It's a real threat to violating the Constitution."
Board member Melissa Bartlett agreed, saying she simply believed services shouldn't be held in school.
"There's a reason for the separation of church and state, she said.
Board member Russ Smith originally favored allowing Fusion to stay at the high school, but he voted against the proposed policy.
"My concern is what the courts would do. If we open to one, we have to open to all," said Mr. Smith, adding that C-R could lose a discrimination lawsuit if it came to that.
Speakers at last Monday's meeting also voiced concerns.
Susan Spivack argued that "It is the history of this country to prohibit" use of public buildings for religious purposes.
Wayne Stinson said he appreciated the board's work on the recent school budget but then told members "you're essentially subsidizing the church for $1,500 per month."
Board members agreed that under the new policy, Fusion Church must submit a request to use the high school.
Afterwards, Superintendent Lynn Macan wasn't sure how the board would consider Fusion's past use of the school in light of the policy's six-month provision.