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Iowa ACLU Leader OK With Public School Meeting in Church Building

Iowa ACLU Leader OK With Public School Meeting in Church Building

The head of the Iowa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is not "truly concerned" about an agreement between a public school and a church about students taking classes at the church building.

ACLU of Iowa Executive Director Ben Stone told The Christian Post that he was confident that school administrators from West Des Moines would respect the religious liberty of students as they held classes at Lutheran Church of Hope.

"We're not really truly concerned that administrators might not understand the proper way to do something like this," said Stone.

"It looks like they do understand that if you're going to house public school students in a religious building that they need to take reasonable steps to preserve the religious liberty of the individual students."

Stone added that "it looks as though" the church officials and school administrators would "make the accommodations that are consistent" with religious liberty rights for students. According to Stone, this would include not holding classes in the sanctuary of Lutheran Church of Hope and having religious signs and posters covered or removed while classes are in session.

Recently, officials from West Des Moines Community Schools decided to relocate the 600-student Hillside Elementary School to Lutheran Church of Hope due to the Hillside facility being in need of repairs.

Chris Gunnare, Chief Operations Officer for Lutheran Church of Hope, told The Christian Post that the final agreement for use of the church facility was still being hammered out.

"Verbally we have agreed, our council is in process of approving the final agreement and the school board is voting on the final agreement," said Gunnare.

"Basically the conditions are they will have access to our building Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The church is letting the school use the space for free. The agreement allows the church to use the rooms before and after school and on weekends."

According to Gunnare, the church building is 152,000 square feet and includes classroom space, fellowship space, and the gym. These facilities, rather than the 2,500-seat sanctuary, will be used by Hillside.

Initially, the ACLU of Iowa did express some precautions to local media. Executive Director Stone told the Des Moines Register about what the church and school needed to do to respect student rights.

"I think it's important there be considerations for religious liberties of students and that no students be placed in a position where they're going to be confronted with religious messages that really are not appropriate for the school setting," said Stone.

Regarding the issue of religious liberty, Gunnare told CP that the decision by the school to use Lutheran Church of Hope came after much research and recognition of necessity.

"The school did research this issue, since they have proceeded with the use of the building, it would appear they are comfortable with arrangement given the emergency situation and lack of other options," said Gunnare.

"As a church, we feel we are called to support and serve those around us and saw this as a great opportunity to serve the community."

According to the Des Moines Register, Hillside will likely use the church facility for two months while repairs are performed at the campus. The school year for West Des Moines begins on Tuesday, Aug. 21.


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