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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Using School Facilities For Religious Services…Is Legal

Rivertown Community Church holds services in Marianna High School Auditorium By Sid Riley

One of the agenda topics at Tuesday’s School Board workshop was a discussion about the renting of the MHS auditorium by the highly successful Blountstown based Rivertown Community Church. The Board members as well as this paper have received several inquires from citizens relating to the legality of this arrangement, due to the rigorous attention paid by the ACLU to separation of religion from school activities. Well…..it seems this arrangement is completely legal.

“We can’t hold Baccalaureate services, we can’t say a prayer before a ball game, we can’t even say a blessing before a meal here at school…but this is perfectly legal,” stated Superintendent Lee Miller. As long as it is completely separated from school functions, and the school does nothing to promote or encourage attendance at the Church, it is allowable.

Mary Neves, Principal at MHS, explained how the arrangement had come about. “Paul Smith, the Blountstown based Pastor of the church approached the school officials about the possibility of using the facility on a temporary basis while the Church evaluated the possibility of forming and building a Church here in Jackson County. They said they had around 150 members in Blountstown who were driving there every Sunday from Jackson County. They have a doctrine of ‘giving back’ to the community, and these people were giving their tithes to the Church, so they felt it appropriate they should be part of the Jackson County community. They are paying $10,300 in rent for three months of usage, and are also paying for cleaning the church, and they are leaving it in pristine condition,” Neves explained. “We are planning to use these monies to improve the sound system and make other improvements to the facility”, she continued.

School officials, and their legal advisors gave assurance that the arrangement was completely legal, so they proceeded with the contract. The Church held its first services last Sunday morning.

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