New York City Schools Allowed to Ban Church Services

 

UPDATE: The Supreme Court has now upheld the decision by the Court of Appeals. See our story on this here.

In yet another court decision that struck a blow to Christian worship in America, the United States 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled that New York City public schools can ban churches from renting space for Sunday services. New York City, unlike many areas in the United States, has a serious shortage of space, due to its enormous population living on an island and surrounding boroughs that comprise a very small geographical area. Additionally, real estate prices are extremely high. Thus many public schools rent out their space for all sorts of non-educational purposes to various organizations (as an example there are several thousand groups who rent school space during off-hours — and only 60 churches who do so in the entire city). For churches, who may not have a great deal of financing, are new or just looking to relocate, this has provided an excellent resource. The services do not interfere with education as they are held on Sunday mornings, when no students or staff are present. Additionally the city makes revenue to pay for school operations. But now, as a result of this ruling, Churches and all groups who worship can be excluded.

The Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit said the decision does not constitute viewpoint discrimination because it does not seek to exclude religious expression but rather excludes a type of activity – worship services.

“The exclusion of religious worship services is a reasonable content-based restriction,” the appeals court said in its opinion. It has been years of struggle  for Bronx Household of Faith, the church at the center of this legal storm. The church has been facing hurdles since 1994, when its application to rent a public school building for Sunday services was rejected by the New York City Board of Education. Ever since then, the church has been in and out of court trying to hold on to the space it rents out in a Bronx public school.

The court felt that by allowing church services on Sunday, the school was “dominated” by the church presence (even though in most cases, the church uses 2-3 rooms in the building) and that the school for that moment became a church, and thus violated the Constitution’s Establishment cause that says that the government cannot endorse a particular religion. Yet there was no evidence of any student, parent or person stating that the services made it seem as if the school was holding service and not the churches, who clearly delineate their names in their fliers and materials. Additionally, for Christians, worship service is religious expression.

At a time when public schools and universities are providing foot baths and prayer rooms for Muslim students, to accomodate theirfaith, how can renting space to Christian churches during hours when no students or faculty are even on school grounds be more of a violation of “separation of church and state”? The decision seems to smack of hypocrisy light of these facts. The Alliance Defense Fund, attorneys for the Bronx Household of Faith, the church in question in this lawsuit, has already stated that they plan to appeal this decision:


“Religious groups, including churches, shouldn’t be discriminated against simply because they want to rent a public building just like other groups can,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence.
“The idea that people of faith may be singled out for discrimination is flagrantly contrary to the U.S. Constitution. The 2nd Circuit greatly erred by not putting an end to the board’s continued defiance of the First Amendment.”

 

The Supreme Court made its feelings clear on this issue when it ruled in the Good News Club v. Milford Central School decision in 2001 that it was unconstitutional for public schools to exclude Christian groups from renting or using its facilities when other community groups are permitted to rent space.

Heritage Baptist Church,
an excellent, Bible-believing church in New York City, rents out public school space in Manhattan and could be affected by this ruling. These churches not only worship in their community but they do homeless outreach, provide worship for dead adults and children and other free services to assist the those in need in Manhattan. In high-crime areas of the city, where schools provide the only usable space for church, children have cited the church as the only peaceful peace to go outside of the home to enjoy themselves. Churches are valuable community resources in addition to houses of worship and this decision just seeks to eliminate their presence. The Bronx Household of Faith’s mission is to specifically provide crisis relief, food clothing and bring the Gospel into the low-income, high crime areas on a weekly basis. Pray that these and all the churches in Manhattan in this situation can continue to worship in the spaces that they pay to use like every other organization in the city. And even if the law does force them to move, just pray God will continue to provide for them as He always has. The persecution is increased, but the Word of God cannot be silenced.

Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8

 

UPDATE: The Supreme Court has now upheld the decision by the Court of Appeals. See our story on this here.

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  1. Historic Church of the Covenant (PCUSA) at 310 East 42nd Street @2nd Avenue in Manhattan, conveniently located 2 blocks from Grand Central Station and designed by J. Cleveland Cady (architect of the Museum of Natural History) welcomes the congregations of the churches that have been displaced by the new government ban on churches using public schools for religious meetings. We are a beautiful location for your weddings also.

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