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

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Wednesday, September 24, 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 1995 to secure equal access to public buildings not only for Bronx Household of Faith, but for other churches and faith groups as well.


ADF asks US Supreme Court to uphold freedom of churches to meet in NYC public schools

19-year-old case heads to high court
Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Attorney sound bites:  Jordan Lorence  |  David Cortman
Video:  Video news release  |  B-roll

NEW YORK — Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday to uphold the freedom of churches and other congregations to meet for worship services in New York City public schools. The petition asks the high court to review a 2-1 ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit that upheld a city policy prohibiting worship services in public school buildings during non-school hours. The panel’s ruling is on hold until the Supreme Court decides whether to take the case.

“Community groups in New York City are welcome to rent empty school buildings except for one singled-out purpose: worship services,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence. “Evicting churches and the help they offer through their worship services in otherwise empty buildings on weekends helps no one. Violating the First Amendment, as New York City is doing, hurts everyone. For that reason, we hope the U.S. Supreme Court will agree to hear this important case.”

The panel’s ruling in Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York 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 even though the department allows other community groups to rent space for their meetings.

“The Second Circuit has issued five opinions in this case, and like most sequels, the opinions keep getting worse,” the petition explains. “The latest opinion is no exception. The panel majority upheld the Department’s policy of excluding ‘religious worship services’ from its facilities, flouting this Court’s precedent, and resulting in multiple circuit conflicts on First Amendment issues…. Churches in New York City are on the brink of being expelled from a public forum they have used on an equal basis with other community groups for years, many with nowhere else to go in the communities they serve. This case involves issues of exceptional importance, not only to…churches meeting in New York City schools, but also to our fundamental liberties of religious freedom and freedom of speech.”

The petition also notes that the Supreme Court’s decision in another ADF case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, provides additional support for ruling in favor of the churches. In that decision, the Supreme Court made clear that the government can’t “seek to define permissible categories of religious speech,” as New York City is doing, and that “the Establishment Clause must be interpreted by reference to historical practices and understandings.”

As the ADF petition points out, “History is replete with examples of churches using public buildings for worship: the framers of the Constitution attended church services in the U.S. Capitol building, churches met in the federal court in New York City during the Great Awakening, and 49 of 50 of the largest school districts in the nation allow such practices today.”

“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,” said 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. We hope the Supreme Court will allow them to continue being a true benefit to the communities they love to serve.”

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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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Previous news releases:

  • 2014-05-07: Supreme Court’s prayer decision supports freedom of churches to meet in NYC public schools
  • 2014-04-17: ADF appeals decision against churches meeting in NYC public schools
  • 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

Commentary:
  • Jordan Lorence: Town of Greece decision brings needed common sense to Establishment Clause...and to New York City (National Review, 2014-05-09)
  • 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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