U.S. Supreme Court Won’t Hear Appeal of Ruling Barring NYC Churches from Meeting in Schools

Bronx Rally Credit ADFWASHINGTON — 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.

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“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.”

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  • Peter Leh

    Can you believe the sign? WOW what a sense of entitlement.

  • Peter Leh

    “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.”

    don;t know where these educated board members got their information. Perhaps it is a sign of why the schools are in the condition they are in.

    the statement certainly is not true. Allowing all religious groups the opportunity to rent public facilities in no way violates the establishment clause. Only renting to CERTAIN religious groups and disallowing others does violate it.

    No need to make stuff up. Just make it a policy that no religious groups may use the facilities and that will be perfectly legal and of no need of explanation.

    • hytre64

      Actually, discriminating against groups because they are religious means that you are favoring secular groups over religious groups. According to the NYC Human Rights Commission, you should not be able to discriminate against someone because of Age, Race, Color, Religion/Creed, National Origin, Gender, …

      If they had a policy barring ANYONE from renting a school facility, then it would be treating them equally under the law. Otherwise, they need to rent the facilities out regardless of the content of the meetings (barring illegal/criminal activity).

  • RWH

    It is one thing to rent facilities while saving up to build their own building. it is another to develop a sense of entitlement and simply assume that they have the right not to build. Every other church understands that they need to build their own building and get their own sense of identity in the neighborhood. Why do these folks feel that they should be different. What if every house of worship in the neighborhood demanded space in the local school?

    • hytre64

      1) Land (especially in NYC) is almost prohibitively expensive. To blithely expect a small congregation to come up with the millions necessary is unrealistic.

      2) Apparently the school system is discriminating based on the content or character of the organization renting their facilities. Isn’t NYC one of the places where there was a lawsuit about “public accomodation”?

      “The NYC Commission on Human Rights protects individuals from discrimination in the area of public accommodations. Anyone who provides goods and services to the general public is considered a public accommodation. It is against the Law for a public accommodation to withhold or refuse to provide those goods or services based on the following protected classes under the Law:

      Age, Race, Color, Religion/Creed, National Origin, Gender,…

      How, then, can the school system, which provides a service to non-religious groups (ie. renting of facilities) justify refusal to rent those same facilities to a religious group in violation of their own code?

      • RWH

        And what evidence do you have to substantiate that this church is saving money to get its own facility. And what entitlement do they have to simply demand that they be given facilities in a public place? I taught in a school that rented out its facilities. I had to pack things up every Friday. Otherwise, these people felt entitled to use my paper and supplies, rearrange my furniture, and remove things on bulletin boards without authorization, and they thought that they could use my supply closet to store their stuff. Not to mention things that were vandalized or stolen. There are plenty of other entities that will rent out property. Hotels have such accommodations as do other houses of worship. My bet is that they are too cheap to find their own place.

        • hytre64

          I never asserted that they were saving money to get their own facility. What I said, was that it was unrealistic to expect that a small congregation to come up with the millions involved in purchasing land in NYC.

          Secondly, if the public schools are willing to sign rental agreements with private groups to allow them to use their facilities, it should not matter if that group is a church or not. To discriminate against a group because it is a church seems to be in violation of the NYC commission on Human Rights (as cited above). If they rent out their facilities to the Boy Scouts, then they should rent it out to a church.

          • RWH

            When groups rent spaces in hotels, they are renting an empty space. When groups try to rent in schools, they are using space already occupied by others. It’s like having a forced meeting in your own house where people use your furniture, your dishes, your utilities. Groups like the Boy Scouts serve kids that are already students in the school. They use things such as gyms that don’t need to have teachers put things away after classes are over on Friday an then put things back before school starts on Monday. Let these people save up and get their own place. They’ll do much better in a place they can truly call their own.

          • hytre64

            My church rented for 12 years prior to being able to afford to purchase land for a church, and another 7 years until we actually finished constructing a church building. During that time, we rented out public school gymnasiums. We brought in our own sound system, chairs, musical instruments, etc. After service we packed everything back up into the storage trailer (that we took with us), and swept and cleaned the gym. All we were renting was an empty space. Absolutely no difference from renting to the BSA.

            There is nothing saying that the school board has to rent out individual classrooms. Instead, whatever they choose to make available for rent to the general public, should be available to rent regardless of the purpose of the group renting the facilities.

          • RWH

            And what about the damage to the gym floor? Even with a tarp laid down, those surfaces are not designed for the type of lug and tug set-ups that you were doing.

          • hytre64

            Since I was on the clean-up crew, I can tell you what damage was done. NONE.

            We used the same type of chairs used by the school. We used padding under the keyboard, sound system and speakers. No liquids were allowed, so there were no spills

            The Cub Scout troop I was in probably did a lot more damage to the school gym because of all of the running & games we played (not to mention the equipment for things like the pine wood derby).
            But this misses the main point. The schools should not be able to discriminate based on the character of the organization renting the facilities. They can lay down guidelines on acceptable usage (ie. materials brought in, use of classrooms, cleaning, etc), but not on the content of the meeting being held.

  • Darrell K Whitfield

    Many groups meet regularly in public facilities without building their own facilites. This is discrimination clear and simple. There is no sense of entitlement if it is open to all groups.

    • Christine

      I therefore hope some other religious groups such as satanists avail themselves of the opportunity.

      • hytre64

        They are free to do this. We had a Buddhist group renting out one of the local schools…

  • IntellectOne

    What does the Board of Education not understand about The Freedom of Religion that is so clear in the Constitution of the United States of America. Freedom of Religion means Freedom in the public square. It does not mean just Freedom of Worship.”space”
    There is no need to make any laws in regard to Freedom of Religion because it is self evident on what it says and means.in the Constitution. The Constitution was signed and dated in “The Year of Our Lord”.. The Forefathers were clearly Christian when the Constitution was written, they wrote from a Christian perspective, but the pagan politicians and judges misinterpreted what it said and started to make laws till they are spinning in the wind.. The understanding of the Constitution of America has gone downhill because of all the misinterpretation and making laws from a pagan perspective when the Supreme Court has no right to do so..