Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. – 2 Timothy 3:12
As the battle for religious freedom in New York City continues, The Lord has provided a victory on February 24th as a District Court Judge issued an injunction blocking New York City’s ban on churches renting space in public schools, allowing the churches to resume their worship services. As the Christian Post reported:
The judge wrote in the court opinion that the church has a good chance of winning based on the argument that the ban “fosters excessive governmental entanglement with religion” and violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment – which provides that “Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise [of religion].”
The city plans to appeal the ruling.
Jordan Lorence, senior counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund, commented, “The city can’t single out religious expression and treat it worse than the expression of everybody else.
“The court’s order allows churches and other religious groups to meet in empty school buildings on weekends just as non-religious groups do while the lawsuit proceeds. The city’s view of the First Amendment is wrong, and we intend to continue to demonstrate that in court.”
Since 1995, the Bronx Household of Faith, the church at the center of this legal storm, has been in litigation with the City of New York’s Board of Education, that has sought to ban the small church from renting space in its public school facilities on Sundays for church service. In New York City, real estate is rented for premium prices due to the extreme lack of space. For many new and small churches, renting space in public schools on Sunday mornings (when no students or staff are present) provides an affordable option. In New York, over 6,000 organizations and groups rent school space during off hours. Of this group only 60 are churches and this is the group the Board of Education is seeking to ban. All because of a perceived violation of the “separation of church and state.” However, New York State’s consitution provides for equal access for religious groups to use of public space. When the churches rent space, no students or teachers are present. They do not change the building’s appearance and usually use 2-3 rooms in a very large school building. None of this would legally meet the standard of the state “establishing Christianity” as the religion of the land. (Meanwhile classes that teach Yoga, despite being a clear religious practice of hundreds of millions of Hindus in the world, are free to carry on with public school rentals).
The City won a ruling earlier this year in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in which the judge ruled that churches should not be permitted to rent space. This resulted in a February 12th date for the ban to go into effect. Thus many of the churches were without time or resources to find a new place of worship. Some churches like Heavenly Vision Center in Manhattan, held their service outside on the sidewalk. Additionally, there have been many protests and vigils, led by New York City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, expressing the desire for churches to have a home. With this latest ruling, for now, the prayers of the church have been answered. The District Court judge in her decision wrote: “In this Court’s view, losing one’s right to exercise freely and fully his or her religious beliefs is a greater threat to our democratic society than a misperceived violation of the Establishment Clause.”
Despite this victory, the legal battle is not over. The City of New York is going to appeal this decision. This can have impact nationwide if New York City is successful in evicting churches from public schools. Lorence feels the best solution is for New York State to pass legislation that clearly permits religious groups to rent public school space.
“This [court] order prevents the city’s policy from being enforced while litigation continues, but legislators can resolve the issue once and for all by making the city get rid of the policy,” said Lorence. “The courts have consistently ruled that the Constitution does not require New York City to ban religious worship services, so the city or the state legislature is free to repeal the policy.”
Continue to pray for these churches and their freedom to practice their faith. And remember that no matter what struggle, challenge or persecution comes, Jesus Christ is with His church. And if your church is not suffering this persecution, give thanks and praise to The Lord for you freedom to worship Him in peace and work hard to share His Gospel.
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20).