The study comes as a Feb. 12 deadline banning the use of New York City schools by churches approaches. Up to 160 NYC congregations that have used school buildings for worship services in the last year will be directly affected by the ban. It will be the only major city in the U.S. with such a policy.
New York state residents are less likely to embrace a law allowing churches to meet in schools, although a plurality (49 percent) there still believe public schools should rent to churches and other community groups. Twenty-seven percent believe “public schools should rent to other community groups but not to churches.” Nineteen percent indicate “public schools should not rent to any churches or community groups” while one percent said they should rent only to churches. The New York State sample included 123 respondents and the sample was not large enough to break out New York City residents.
The reactions to the January survey were in response to the question: “New York City is no longer allowing churches to rent space in any public schools out of concern that a school would be identified with one particular religious belief or practice. Which of the following statements best describes your opinion?”
LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer said the ban has considerable implications for churches in urban contexts and new start-up congregations.
“Historically schools have been welcoming locations to churches, especially in larger urban centers where schools are in the heart of the communities,” he said. “A trend of banning church use of public schools could have significant implications.”
According to the study, there are several statistically significant differences between subgroups of Americans. Americans who live in a large city are less supportive of church and community group use of public schools, with 21 percent saying “public schools should rent to other community groups, but not churches.”
Not surprisingly, Americans who “never” attend a worship service are the least likely (32 percent) to agree that public schools should be able to meet in churches and the most likely (39 percent) to select “public schools should rent to other community groups, but not churches.”
In other data:
– 84 percent of Republicans but only 47 percent of Democrats believe “public schools should rent to churches and other community groups.” Sixty-seven percent of Independents agree with the statement.
– 32 percent of Democrats and 2 percent of Republicans say “public schools should rent to other community groups, but not churches.” Ten percent of Independents chose that answer.
The online survey of 2,019 adult Americans was conducted between Jan. 20-24 using an online panel representative of the adult population of the U.S.