NEW YORK — The city of New York, namely the administration for Mayor Bill DeBlasio, is continuing the fight to keep churches from meeting in public schools in the city.
As previously reported, the case of Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York has been circling through the court system for the past 17 years. It began in 1995, when Bronx Household of Faith submitted an application to rent a public school building for its worship services, but was denied by the Board of Education. The matter then went to court, which turned into an emotional roller coaster, resulting in both temporary victories and losses to both sides.
The Board of Education argued that allowing churches to use school facilities and to advertise their services amounted to a violation of the Establishment Clause in the United States Constitution. The Bronx Household of Faith, represented by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), pointed to the fact that religious student groups already use school rooms after hours for Bible reading and prayer.
The case went all the way up to the United Supreme Court, which declined to hear the matter. In 2012, however, U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Presha issued a permanent injunction, allowing the Bronx Household of Faith to continue to hold services in local public school buildings indefinitely. She stated that denial of the use of the building equated to an infringement of the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
But the ruling was again appealed, and last April, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the Board of Education’s regulation barring churches from meeting in schools while allowing secular activities doesn’t violate the Constitution. The case was then again appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Earlier this month, attorneys for the city filed a brief with the court again arguing that the policy was reasonable and non-discriminatory.
“The department’s decision to make public schools available to religious organizations for a wide range of activities, but not for worship services or as a house of worship, is constitutional,” it read. “The policy does not prohibit, limit, or burden any religious practice; does not entangle the government in matters of religion; and does not impair petitioners’ ability to speak freely.”
But some note that Mayor Bill DeBlasio had stated prior to his election that he supported the right for churches to meet in city schools.
“I stand by my belief that a faith organization playing by the same rules as any community non-profit deserves access,” he stated in April of last year, according to Christianity Today.
However, DeBlasio never moved to change the policy, and attorneys under DeBlasio’s administration filed their argument to uphold the current restrictions earlier this month.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is representing the churches, submitted their rebuttal against the city on Monday.
“Churches meeting in New York City public schools for worship services have fed the poor and needy, assisted in rehabilitating drug addicts and gang members, helped rebuild marriages and families, and provided for the disabled,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “The churches have also helped the public schools themselves by volunteering to paint the interiors of inner-city schools; donating computers, musical instruments, and air conditioners; and providing effective after-school programs to help all students with their studies.”
“We hope the Supreme Court will allow them to continue being a true benefit to the communities they love to serve,” he said.
The court will likely announce whether or not it will accept the case in late February or before the end of March.