Court upholds ban on religious services in NYC public schools

Thurgood Marshal U.S. Courthouse, home to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Credit: Ken Lund via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

A federal appeals court has upheld a New York City policy prohibiting religious services in public school buildings, a decision critics said wrongly targets churches for exclusion.

Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, objected to the April 3 decision, saying that “the First Amendment prohibits New York City from singling out worship services and excluding them from empty school buildings.”

He noted that the buildings are “generally available to all individuals and community groups” for activity related to the community’s welfare. Groups that are religious should not be excluded.
 
Two of the three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overruled a lower court’s finding that the city's education department's policy wrongly restricted the free exercise of religion.

The two appellate judges said the policy seeks to avoid the risk of illegally endorsing a religion.

The dissenting judge noted that among the 50 largest school districts in the U.S., New York City is the only one to exclude religious worship from school facilities.

Small churches in poor neighborhoods have said they are particularly affected by the rule since they rely on the inexpensive space, The New York Times reports.

The Bronx Household of Faith, a small church that describes itself as “community-based,” filed a legal challenge to the rule.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, backed the policy and contended that religious congregations were “dominating” public schools each Sunday.

She said that when a school is “converted to a church in this way” it sends “a powerful message” that the government favors that church.

However, critics say that renting out space to religious groups with the same rules and standards as non-religious groups is in full adherence with the Constitution.

“There is no subsidy of churches here,” Lorence observed. “Churches and religious groups pay the same uniform rates that everyone else does to use the schools.”

The Bronx Household of Faith plans to appeal the decision.

During the long legal dispute, the community has built a church building across the street from the public school it once used in the University Heights neighborhood, Robert Hall, the church’s co-pastor, told The New York Times. However, he said its legal case will continue because it still plans to use the school building and because of the larger legal issue.

The policy allows social, civil and recreational groups to use public school buildings; religious groups may use the buildings, though not for worship services.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, unlike his predecessor Michael Bloomberg, opposes the ban on worship services.

“I stand by my belief that a faith organization playing by the same rules as any community nonprofit deserves access. They play a very, very important role in terms of providing social services and other important community services, and I think they deserve that right.”


Voices

Statement on U.S. Supreme Court Decision in United States v. Texas

Archbishop José H. Gomez

Our nation’s ongoing failure to address the immigration crisis is a humanitarian tragedy. For more than a decade, state and local governments, Congress, the President, the courts — and now the highest court in the land — all have failed in their responsibilities to address this issue. 

Events

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June 26, 2016

  • Sunday, June 26

    St John Eudes Adult Choir annual 'Summer Concert Under the Stars', 6:30 p.m., St. John Eudes, 9901 Mason Ave., Chatsworth. Featuring The Rose Palmer Trio musicians. Theme: 'Neighbor to Neighbor' .  Please bring a picnic meal if you wish.  Tickets available at the door: Adults $10; Children 12 and under $5. For info please call Mary (818) 346-0927.

     

    Year of Mercy Mass in The Shrine of St. John Paul II, 3 p.m., Our Lady of the Bright Mount Church, 3424 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles.  Divine Mercy Chaplet and Mass celebrated in KOREAN with Fr. Robert Dae-je Choi, SJ, Pastor of St. Agnes Korean Catholic Church.  Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and confession following Mass. Closing prayer will be a blessing and veneration of the first class relic of St. John Paul II. 

     

    “In the Garden”Art & Music Fair, 1 p.m.-5 p.m.,Mary & Joseph Retreat Center, 5300 Crest Road, Rancho Palo Verde. Local artists creating, displaying & selling work in gardens. The Taiko Effect Drummers, South Bay Coastliners Barbershop Chorus, South Bay Strummers ukelele band, Logan & Randall’s Folk Band. Ticket includes homemade strawberry shortcake, lemonade & iced tea. Reservations: Irma (310) 377-4867 ext 234. Cost: $10. Order box lunch a week ahead of the event for $12 each. Choices: Chicken Salad, Tri-tip or Vegetarian; includes Salad, Fruit, Chips, a Cookie & Water.

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