Churches Barred From Meeting in NYC Schools Win Monumental Legal Battle

Churches in New York City that had been prohibited from using public school buildings for Sunday worship have won a monumental victory in federal court.

Judge Loretta Presha issued a permanent injunction today allowing the Bronx Household of Faith to continue to hold services in local public school buildings indefinitely. The school was facing possible eviction on July 1st, when a preliminary injunction against the New York City Board of Education was set to expire.

“Having considered the latest evidence and the parties’ respective arguments, the Court determines that its reasons for granting Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction were sound and that implementation of Ch. Reg. D-180 violates both the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause,” Presha wrote in today’s order. “Defendants are permanently enjoined from enforcing Ch. Reg. D180 so as to deny Plaintiffs’ application or the application of any similarly-situated individual or entity to rent space in the Board’s public schools for meetings that include religious worship.”

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 February, Presha issued a preliminary injunction while the case was being decided. In today’s ruling, Presha saw that the Board of Education’s restriction against churches meeting in schools violated the Establishment Clause for another reason — it was an “impermissible degree of government entanglement with religion.”

“Churches that have been helping communities for years can continue to offer the hope that empty buildings can’t,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence, who presented oral argument on June 1st. “The court’s order allows churches and other religious groups to meet for worship services in empty school buildings on weekends on the same terms as other groups. ADF will continue to defend this constitutionally protected right if the city chooses to continue using taxpayer money to evict the very groups that are selflessly helping the city’s communities, including the public schools themselves.”

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ADF also states that the churches that meet in public schools have been a great benefit to the community, providing drug rehabilitation services, marriage counseling and volunteer assistance, as well as food and donations of goods to the poor.

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