Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Description:  The Bronx Household of Faith is an inner-city New York City church that sought to rent a public school building on Sundays to hold its weekly worship service but had its request rejected by the New York City Board of Education. This led to a legal battle that began in the federal court system in 1994 to secure equal access to public buildings not only for Bronx Household of Faith, but for other churches and faith groups as well.

ADF appeals decision against churches meeting in NYC public schools

Appeal means churches won’t be evicted before Easter
Thursday, April 17, 2014

Attorney sound bites:  Jordan Lorence #1  |  Jordan Lorence #2  |  David Cortman

NEW YORK — Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a petition with the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit Wednesday to overturn a 2–1 ruling by a three-judge panel that could widely affect New York City churches. On April 3, the panel upheld city’s policy of prohibiting religious groups from conducting worship services in vacant public schools during non-school hours.

The filing automatically puts the panel’s ruling on hold, which means that congregations will be able to continue meeting through Easter and the remainder of Passover while the 2nd Circuit decides what to do with the petition.

“Every community group in New York City is welcome to rent empty school buildings except for one purpose: worship services,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence. “The worship services of many religious organizations and churches serve as the point through which they can provide help and hope to the poorest communities. There is no reason why they should be targeted for exclusion.”

“Evicting churches and the help they offer through their worship services in otherwise empty buildings helps no one,” Lorence said. “Blatantly violating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as New York City is doing, hurts everyone. That’s why we are asking the full 2nd Circuit to hear this case.”

“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,” explained 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. They are a true benefit to the communities they love to serve.”

The panel’s ruling said that the city can single out for exclusion what it defines as “religious worship services.” The New York City Department of Education has defended this policy in court on and off since 1995 to keep churches and other religious groups from renting space for worship services even though it allows other community groups to rent space for their meetings.

In a strongly worded dissent, 2nd Circuit Judge John M. Walker, Jr. wrote, with regard to the First Amendment, that “shutting the door to religious worship services in such a setting when every other activity is permitted strikes at the [Free Exercise of Religion] Clause’s core…. Of the fifty largest school districts in the United States, New York City alone entirely excludes religious worship from its facilities…. It is striking that none of these other school districts appear to have the slightest concern about violating the Establishment Clause, nor have any of their community use policies been found to violate the Clause.”

“Over a strong dissent, a panel of this Court upheld the City’s policy of excluding churches from renting empty school buildings for ‘religious worship services’ in an otherwise neutral and open public forum,” the petition for rehearing en banc filed in Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York explains. “The majority’s opinion conflicts with multiple decisions from the Supreme Court and sister circuits, and for those reasons, this Court should grant en banc review to correct the conflicts.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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Additional resources: Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Previous news releases:

  • 2014-04-03: ADF considering next steps after 2nd Cir. rules against weekend worship services at NYC public schools
  • 2013-05-23: NYC Council resolution gives churches hope
  • 2012-11-16: NYC churches helping Sandy victims still face eviction
  • 2012-06-29: Hope renewed: Weekend worship services will continue at NYC schools
  • 2012-05-31: Will court say worship services can continue in NYC public schools on weekends?
  • 2012-02-24: Alive and kicking: Churches to resume meeting at NYC schools
  • 2012-02-16: New life: Like a phoenix rising, churches can continue meeting in NYC schools
  • 2012-02-13: Lawsuit re-energized to stop eviction of worship services from NYC schools
  • 2012-01-09: Faith leaders to Bloomberg: Don’t leave churches homeless; stand for equal access, religious liberty
  • 2011-12-05: Supreme Court lets NYC ‘unequal access’ policy at public schools stand
  • 2011-09-27: ADF asks Supreme Court to halt NYC unequal access policy
  • 2011-06-16: ADF appeals Bronx ruling to keep churches meeting in NYC public schools
  • 2011-06-02: Bronx fail: 2nd Cir. says churches can’t rent NYC school facilities, but all other community groups can
  • 2009-10-05: ADF attorney available for media interviews after 2nd Circuit hearing in Bronx church case
  • 2008-04-01: U.S. DOJ: N.Y. churches entitled to equal treatment by schools
  • 2007-11-02: Judge grants permanent injunction to allow Bronx church to meet at public school on Sundays
  • 2005-11-17: Free at last
  • 2005-05-19: U.S. Justice Department joins ADF in defending equal access for churches in NYC
  • 2005-02-07: ADF attorney defends equal access for churches

  • Jordan Lorence: Obama DOJ decides not to support religious liberty in NYC (National Review, 2012-10-09)
  • Jordan Lorence: President Obama's Department of Justice once again rejects protection for religious liberty (Christian Post, 2012-10-09)
  • Jordan Lorence: NYC vs. Jefferson: unfair worship ban (New York Post, 2012-08-11)
  • Jordan Lorence: In NYC, schools in churches are OK, but churches in schools are not? (Baptist Press, 2012-02-01)
  • Jordan Lorence: NYC’s senseless slap at prayer (New York Post, 2012-01-19)
  • Tom Minnery: Bloomberg's 'tolerance' hypocrisy: Why does the mayor welcome the mosque and fight small churches? (New York Daily News, 2010-08-23)
  • Jordan Lorence: Give churches space in vacant city schools: They're asking for equal access, nothing more (New York Daily News, 2010-01-27)

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