Jason Meer says YES: Church environment is non-religious
Rows of aging desks fill this artificially lit basement. The room is nondescript, with colorless tiles lining the floor. Just a few blocks down Colesville Road, the site is a convenient place to hold Blazers' AP exams in May, except for one hitch - it's in the basement of a church.
Before MCPS agreed to finance graduation at the Comcast Center, there was controversy over whether or not holding the ceremony at Jericho City of Praise violated the constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state. Two years ago, D.C.-based interest group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed a complaint with MCPS that Jericho provided unwanted exposure to religious symbols. But the basement of Christ Congregational Church does not subject students to unsolicited religion, so it should continue to be rented for AP testing.
The absence of any religious symbols in the church basement renders the chief complaint against Jericho - its "Jesus is the Lord!" epigraph - irrelevant. The only semblance of religion is the occasionally audible organ practicing upstairs. Test takers have no legitimate basis to claim that religious icons disrupt the testing environment.
The biggest problem with graduating at a church is that such a ceremony could have perceived religious overtones. But testing cannot be reasonably confused with religious expression in any setting.
Essentially, the whole debate calls into question the definition of separation of church and state. Past U.S. Supreme Court decisions and current county policy stipulate that the separation can be ideological rather than physical. Since the February 2001 decision in Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the Supreme Court has recognized the right of religious organizations to rent public spaces for worship and forbidden caretakers of such spaces from favoring secular organizations. Though the circumstances are reversed - in that Blair is renting from and not to a religious organization - the precedent for upholding rental rights given that no religious beliefs are being forced upon students still applies.
Montgomery County recognizes this physical-ideological distinction in its designation of churches as polling places. Like Christ Congregational, these churches are used for their large, accessible rooms, not their religious affiliations.
Since taking AP tests in the church basement doesn't directly subject students to the institution's ideology, the physical interaction between students and a religious institution in a secular setting is benign. Christ Congregational has made an effort to keep Christian images out of the testing room. The space's convenient location and the absence of disruptive religious symbols should ensure that Blazers continue to take their AP tests there for years to come.
Jason Meer. Jason Meer is a RISING SENIOR who needs to get more sleep. When awake, he finds time to facebook, watch SportsCenter and World Poker Tour, and listen to varied musicians from Chamillionaire to Sigur Ros to Kelly Clarkson. If you see a red-haired guy walking … More »