Thursday, May 5, 2011

Should ANC Meetings Be Held in Churches?

Update: The poll results are in. 58% say yes, hold ANC meetings in churches; 41% say no.

Should DC government's Advisory Neighborhood Commissions hold their public meetings in churches?

Many ANCs throughout the District of Columbia schedule their monthly meetings in churches. ANC 7B has its meetings at the Ryland Epworth United Methodist Church, and ANC 3E meets at St. Mary's Armenian Apostolic Church, for example.

Does holding a governmental meeting in a church violate the establishment clause of the United States Constitution which says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" ?

One point of view, enunciated by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, says that, "It is a basic principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that the government is prohibited from promoting a specific religious belief. Furthermore, the government cannot compel a citizen to enter a house of worship or profess a particular religious view." Another perspective says that is doesn't really matter because these meetings are conducted in the non-religious rooms of the church.

Not all ANCs hold their meetings in churches: Many do use community centers, libraries, police stations and other non-religious buildings. 

What do you think? Should ANCs be allowed to hold meetings in churches?  Does this violate the United States Constitution? You can vote in All Life Is Local's poll on whether or not ANCs should be permitted to use churches for meetings.


  1. Honestly, I don't see the problem with them meeting in a church, a library, a police station, or any other building -- just so long as they meet within the community.

    I'm not concerned about WHERE they meet, because a building is just a building. Besides, there probably are more readily available, reasonably-priced (or free) spaces in the many church buildings in DC than in any other type of building.

    It also probably would be good to clear up something about church in the case of a church, the "church" is not the actual building, but in reality is the people who are members of the organization.

    So, what's the big deal about using a church building? It's brick, stone, wood or other material, and it provides shelter from the elements.

    But, if a building is really such an issue, then perhaps the ANCs should meet under a tent outside in a park. Somehow, though, I suppose that would end up being a problem for some, too, because churches have been known to have had "tent meetings" over the years.

  2. Now I have heard anything. We vote in churches because they many times are the only buildings that are available in certain communities.

    In fact, the original concept of freedom OF religion has been converted by the media and certain organization into freedom FROM religion. That, however, is not what the founders had in mind when the First Amendment was proposed. Consider the Maryland Declaration of Rights, much of which served as a basis for the Bill of Rights. The present Maryland Declaration of Rights states:

    Art. 36. That as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to Him, all persons are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty; wherefore, no person ought by any law to be molested in his person or estate, on account of his religious persuasion, or profession, or for his religious practice, unless, under the color of religion, he shall disturb the good order, peace or safety of the State, or shall infringe the laws of morality, or injure others in their natural, civil or religious rights; nor ought any person to be compelled to frequent, or maintain, or contribute, unless on contract, to maintain, any place of worship, or any ministry; nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness, or juror, on account of his religious belief; provided, he believes in the existence of God, and that under His dispensation such person will be held morally accountable for his acts, and be rewarded or punished therefor either in this world or in the world to come.

    Nothing shall prohibit or require the making reference to belief in, reliance upon, or invoking the aid of God or a Supreme Being in any governmental or public document, proceeding, activity, ceremony, school, institution, or place.

    Nothing in this article shall constitute an establishment of religion (amended by Chapter 558, Acts of 1970, ratified Nov. 3, 1970).

    The idea that an ANC cannot meet in a church building is secularism to an absurdist degree. While we are at it, why don't we prohibit the police, fire, ambulance, and other government services from serving any church or other religious institution? And, of course, the opening and closing prayer that every Congress has used since 1789 should also be abolished.

    The First Amendment was never intended to prohibit such activities.

  3. I think it's a fair question to ask. Certain tenets of both Islam and Judaism prohibit one from entering other religion's buildings, including churches. Churches are here primarily for people to have a place to worship God, and it's certainly understandable that somebody might feel uncomfortable or reluctant to attend a meeting in a church or other religious building.

  4. I agree with the second poster that "[t]he idea that an ANC cannot meeting in a church building is secularism to an absurdist degree."

    Now, while I understand the third poster's (Joel) comment about "[c]ertain tenets of both Islam and Judaism prohibiting one from entering other religion's buildings, including churches," it just reiterates the fact that apparently some people don't understand that a Christian church building is just that - a BUILDING!

    The REAL "Church" is the PEOPLE, and not the place where they worship. Many Christian congregations in the U.S. alone worship in rented space in all kinds of buildings (both public and private buildings), but can and do worship in other places, too - such as in homes, or even outdoors. The same is true of Christian congregations around the world, where people worship in a myriad of settings, both indoors or outdoors.

  5. I'm an atheist and it doesn't bother me. It's not like I'm going to burst into flames once I walk through the vestibule. Plus, some of these buildings are absolutely beautiful. They're much more visually interesting than your average civic hall.

  6. I am completely grateful for any church that has such a sense of community that it will allow it's building, it's classrooms, it's music rooms, even its sanctuary to be used for non-religions community events, including meetings of a political or governmental nature. And including voting in an election.

    In all the times I've gone to such meetings, whether here in DC, or Chicago, or Colorado, I have never had a sense that any line separating church and state was being crossed.

    I attend my local ANC meetings in a Catholic church, I vote at a Methodist church, and I've gone to book readings and music events at synagogues.