Atheists Protest School District's Use of Church for Preschool

A school district in Iowa has approved plans to renovate part of a nearby church for use as preschool classrooms, and one atheist group is protesting the move.

"[T]his plan violates the Iowa Constitution's definition of the separation of church and state!" the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained on Friday.

The board of Cedar Falls Community School District confirmed earlier this month that the district would spend over $61,000 for renovation of classrooms at Kaio Church, located near Southdale Elementary school.

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The district needed to find more space for three preschool classrooms for the 2011-2012 school year due to increased enrollment, according to the board.

The close proximity of Kaio Church made it convenient for preschool program as it allows for easy access to district technology and the delivery of food service, custodial services and transportation, the board noted.

Plans for renovation – which would include adding a handicap accessible restroom, among other things, to bring it up to code – were approved unanimously by the board of directors.

But FFRF maintains that it is "wholly inappropriate for the District to pay for substantial improvements to a church facility."

"A church is an inherently religious place of worship. Improvements made to adjoining space will be permanent and would constitute a public subsidy of the church and a substantial benefit at public expense of a place of worship," Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Madison, Wis.-based group, contended in a letter sent to the board.

"Taxpayer money may not go toward renovating church facilities."

Gaylor projected that there would be outcry from the public if money went to facilities connected to a Muslim mosque.

"Likewise, some members of your community do not wish to give benefits to a church that proclaims the 'lost' are doomed to 'damnation,'" she argued, as she recommended that the preschool program be relocated.

The board's approved plans violate Iowa's constitution, Gaylor asserted, pointing specifically to the provision that no person should be "compelled to attend any place of worship, pay tithes, taxes, or other rates for building or repairing places of worship."

Superintendent David Stoakes told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier that FFRF has no basis for its arguments.

"We are not going to be propagating any religion in our preschool program," he told the local newspaper.

Stoakes also noted that he has not heard complaints directly from any residents.

Notably, WCF Courier posted an editorial this week calling FFRF's concerns "unfounded."

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