New York Town Uses Tax Dollars To Plow Church Parking Lots

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image of a snow plow moving snowThis winter has been tough for many of us. Feet of snow and frigid temperatures have gripped the US from the Midwest to the Northeast for much of the winter. Many local governments have been strained to keep the roads clear. Some elections are decided based on how elected officials handle services like plowing snow. How would taxpayers feel if their local government passed an ordinance to plow the parking lots of some local churches? One New York town, Shandaken, did just that and like most actions that support religious privilege, the town leaders don’t see the problem.

“It has existed as far back as the ’90s — and may go back to the ’70s and ’80s — but I’ve never heard anyone complain about this before,” Shandaken Supervisor Rob Stanley said.

Resolution No. 60-14 authorizes the town Highway Department to plow the parking lots of firehouses and four churches at the cost of $1 each per season.

The churches include St. Francis De Sales and the United Methodist Church in Phoenicia, the Memorial United Methodist Church in Shandaken and the Shandaken Reformed Church in Mount Tremper.

A fifth church, the Phoenicia Wesleyan Church, was not included in the resolution because it doesn’t have a parking lot, Stanley said.

The Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper is also not on the list.

“From my perspective, this is a non-issue,” the supervisor said. “It’s a courtesy that we have extended to firehouses and houses of worship, because of the services that they provide for the community.”

Ulster town’s plowing policy draws scrutiny (There is limited access to the article)

There are many issues of religious privilege with this story.

I highly doubt the cost of plowing even one parking lot costs only $1 a season. Driver labor, fuel, and equipment upkeep is far more expensive than $1 a season. The town put in the bit about the fire stations and charging a token amount to try and avoid the church and state issue inherent in their act to plow church parking lots.

The town supervisor, Rob Stanley, then appeals to tradition with his remark about the plowing taking place since the 90s and then trying to say they are doing it as a courtesy – even though the church is charged a $1. That isn’t a “courtesy”.

Also we learn in the article that not all churches are included nor are other non-profits. Why are some included and not all of them? The four churches are getting special treatment that other churches and non-profits are not getting.

Another response to the “courtesy” argument is to look at the issue as if the town had decided to plow the parking lot of the local fast food place or car dealership. People tend to get upset if a public service is used to directly benefit a private business, so why are churches treated differently? Churches might be non-profit but they are private businesses.

Contrary to Rob Stanley’s comment, this is a big issue and most likely a violation of the 1st amendment.


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