WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal of a ruling barring New York City churches from meeting in public schools, now leaving the matter in the hands of Mayor Bill de Blasio.
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, but on Monday, the court again declined to hear the case.
Now, Christian groups are hoping that Mayor Bill de Blasio will keep his campaign promise to allow churches to meet in schools, although he has not yet moved to change the policy, and has rather allowed attorneys under his administration to file legal arguments upholding the current restrictions.
“Any community group can meet in New York City’s school buildings during non-school hours for any purpose— except for religious groups meeting to worship God. This policy is clearly nothing more than religious segregation–the kind of segregation the mayor has said he opposes,” said Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence in a statement.
“If the city chooses to use this occasion to evict the churches, it will be shooting itself in the foot,” he continued. “It will be throwing out the very groups that provide enormous and very needed help to their communities and even the schools themselves, as Mayor de Blasio rightly has acknowledged.”
“I stand by my belief that a faith organization playing by the same rules as any community non-profit deserves access,” de Blasio stated last year. “They have to go through the same application process, wait their turn for space [and] pay the same rent, but I think they deserve 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.”
A spokesperson for de Blasio also told the Wall Street Journal on Monday that the mayor “remains committed to ensuring that religious organizations are able to use space in city schools on the same terms provided to other groups,” and that the city will review the current restrictions.
“The Education Department’s argument that it must ban worship services to protect children from religion – as though it were a disease – falls apart on many levels, not the least of which is how willing the city has been to accept the free help churches willingly offer,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “We hope the mayor will allow these congregations to continue being a true benefit to the communities they love to serve.”