New York Churches Being Evicted from Meeting in Public Schools Despite Supreme Court Ruling

In 1984, the Bronx Household of Faith tried to rent space in one of New York’s public schools to hold their Sunday worship.  The New York City Board of Education denied their request prompting the neighborhood church to file suit against the school board for discrimination.

After an 8 year battle, they finally won their case when the courts ruled in their favor in 2002.  The courts ruled that the schools had to provide the same services to the church as they provide to secular groups.

In 2008, their situation again came to the forefront when the church raised issues with the New York City Board of Education who had continued to try to charge the church more than it had for others that were renting space for meetings.  The US Department of Justice issued a legal brief stating that public schools renting their buildings to outside groups had to use equal standards for all possible renters which included churches.  This was the second time that the Bronx Household of Faith had reached a legal ruling in their favor.

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Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund had worked with the church on their cases.  After the second ruling in 2008, he expressed his hope that this should settle the issue once and for all, but that was not to be.  The school board continued to do whatever they could to deter the Bronx Household of Faith from using school property to hold their worship services.

In 2011, their case once again rose up when a three judge panel of the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 vote that schools could decide not to rent their facilities to churches, despite a previous ruling from the US Supreme Court stating that government entities, including schools that make their facilities available to any group must provide equal access to religious groups as well.

In their ruling, the Second Circuit Court said that using public school property by churches could be understood by some as government endorsement of religion.

Lorence filed an appeal, requesting that the matter goes before the full Second US Circuit Court of Appeals and/or with the US Supreme Court.  They were hoping that the full circuit court would uphold the Supreme Court ruling.

It didn’t take long before the full Second US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the previous panel ruling and stated that the public school board could block religious groups from using school property after hours because of an implied endorsement of religion.

In December of 2011, the US Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal filed by the Alliance Defense Fund.  By refusing to hear the appeal, the current Supreme Court actually ruled against the previous Supreme Court ruling made a few years back stating the schools must allow equal access to religious groups.

The New York City Board of Education seems pleased to have finally won their 16 year battle with the Bronx Household of Faith church and to celebrate their victory, they have ordered all churches currently renting school property to find someplace else.  The churches affected have been given until February 12 to find new quarters as they will not be allowed back in after that date.

In response to the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case and allowing the lower court’s decision to stand, a number of New York pastors, members of New York’s City Council, and some state legislatures are rising up against the court’s actions and working towards getting it repealed.  There is also an effort being mounted in the state legislature to try to get them to take necessary action to protect the rights of the churches and they will be allowed to rent school facilities on equal grounds of any other group or organization.

Lorence said,

“The mayor has the authority to change this policy because the Department of Education is a department of city government underneath the mayor, and we are hoping that with all of the growing number of rallies that are increasing in size that the mayor will relent.”

The actions of the New York City School Board are clearly discriminatory in nature.  If the courts allow that type of religious discrimination, then Christians should also have the right to deny doing business with people and groups that have anti-biblical values and beliefs such as having to use their facilities to perform same-sex unions or marriages as did the couple in Illinois with the bread and breakfast.

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