Federal Judge Close to Ruling on Whether NYC Churches Can Meet in Public Schools

A federal judge will soon release a decision regarding whether churches in New York City may be allowed to meet in public schools.

Bronx Household of Faith filed a lawsuit against the New York City Board of Education sixteen years ago in an effort to overturn the city’s ban on church meetings in public schools. The city believed that doing so may violate the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. The case has been through an ongoing roller coaster ride ever since.

During a hearing in federal court this past Friday, Judge Loretta Preska heard arguments both for and against the city’s current regulations. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which argued on behalf of Bronx Household of Faith, pointed to the fact that religious student groups already use school rooms after hours for Bible reading and prayer. Attorneys on behalf of the school board argued that holding church services in schools would be a different matter as they would be advertised in the community as worship services, and would appear to be a form of government-endorsed religion.

“Religious groups, including churches, shouldn’t be discriminated against simply because they want to meet in public buildings for worship services on the same terms as other groups,” stated ADF Attorney Jordan Lorence. “Every community service that evicted churches can no longer provide is one more community service taxpayers have to fund.”

In February of this year, the court granted a preliminary injunction to the church while the case moved forward. It stated, “In this Court’s view, losing one’s right to exercise freely and fully his or her religious beliefs is a greater threat to our democratic society than a misperceived violation of the Establishment Clause.”

A bill is also pending in state legislature that would force the New York City Department of Education to allow churches to rent school facilities for its meetings.

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