On September 13, 2023, the Board of Education of the Syracuse City School District voted unanimously to implement a new building use policy. According to Syracuse.com, the new policy will require users of school district buildings to “adhere to the district’s code of conduct.” The code of conduct reportedly “includes a non-discrimination notice that calls for equal access to educational opportunities regardless of sexual orientation.”
The Board took this step because earlier this year, parents had objected to the use of space at Nottingham High School for church services. As some Albany Update readers and listeners may recall, Syracuse.com reported in June that Radiant Church was holding Sunday services in the Nottingham High School auditorium. Radiant Church is a Baptist church with traditional, Biblically-based beliefs about homosexuality. Recently, Radiant Church has met for Sunday services at a different location; it is not clear at this time whether the church will apply for permission to return to Nottingham.
As an initial matter, it is possible that the District’s new policy would not bar Radiant Church from using school facilities. It would not seem that Biblical doctrine on sexuality would have any bearing on a church’s perspective about “equal access to educational opportunities regardless of sexual orientation.” Analysis of the exact language of the policy would be needed to address this question.
The problem with the District’s new policy is that it isn’t really about making sure building users follow a code of conduct. There is nothing wrong with a school district—or any other property owner—requiring tenants and other users of its property to behave appropriately. There is, however, something wrong with a public school district engaging in blatant viewpoint discrimination and denying equal access to its facilities for persons and groups that do not share its views. Such an action could be vulnerable to a court challenge under the First Amendment.