Church Group Requests Early Termination Of SPS Lease To End Squabble
The controversial Third Coast Community Church notified Saugatuck Public Schools (SPS) on Monday that it will seek a new location to hold its weekly service gatherings and requested early termination of the lease agreement with the district.
“We are no longer willing to allow this issue to drive a wedge between us and our neighbors who are opposed to our presence in the school,” stated Third Coast Community Church Pastor Aaron Brown in Third Coast press release provided on Monday.
“Although our contract permits us to remain in the school through the summer, we have decided that we will voluntarily leave by May 25.”
Opponents of the church being allowed in the school applauded the move.
“Both sides (the church and the school) win when the separation of church and state is respected,” SPS parent Mike McCluskey told The Local Observer in a statement Wednesday in response to the latest development.
McCluskey’s comments reflect the concerns of many other community members that have raised questions of possible violations of the separation of church and state constitutional clause when the school allowed Third Coast access to lease the high school auditorium, cafeteria, and the teacher’s lounge for its Sunday morning services.
The original one-year rental agreement had a termination date of September 3, 2017 and would have provided SPS $24,000 in revenue.
“We appreciate that Third Coast Church recognized the unintended tension this relationship created and we as a board will continue to work through the policy process to evaluate how we want to deal with facility use going forward,” SPS Superintendent Rolfe Timmerman told The Local Observer in his official statement Wednesday morning.
Third Coast is a church-plant of Ridge Point Community Church in Holland. According to church officials, Third Coast has approximately 150 members and most of them live in the Saugatuck-Douglas area. The church started meeting in the Saugatuck Middle/High School auditorium on January 8, 2017.
Monday’s development comes on the heels of last week’s SPS Board of Education closed-session meeting with its legal counsel to discuss the issue, after which the board took no action.
Schools officials said they have not determined how much money has been expended so far on legal counsel relative to this issue.
Previously, Brown, at the February 6 meeting, told the board his church would seek a new location, and asked the school for patience while it found that alternate location.
Brown said his church is still in the process of looking for that alternative space and are eyeing two or three options. However, in terms of amenities, he conceded, “There isn’t a close second to what the school offers.”
Monday’s press release comes after months of pressure from a number of parents and community members who characterize the church as being anti-gay and have raised questions of possible violations of the separation of church and state constitutional clause.
Church leaders strongly repudiate there is an anti-gay agenda and say a mission to convert students to a doctrine is completely unfounded.
“We understand that we’re all different, and we believe that difference, and the right to be different, should be respected and protected,” said Brown.
“These persistent protests are distracting the Board of Education from conducting important district business. Members of this opposition group have threatened litigation and have told the board that they intend to stand against a future bond request if the district will not break their lease agreement with the church,” according to the press release.
Local Observer sources, who asked for anonymity, said groups were already talking to The American Civil Liberties Union to challenge the school district on the separation of church and state constitutional clause.