Fred Mogul, Reporter, WNYC News
Fred Mogul has been covering healthcare and medicine for WNYC since 2002.
A federal district judge says the city can't evict churches that have been renting space for Sunday worship services. It’s the latest in a case that has gone back and forth between different courts, with a different result each time — but ultimately little change.
District judge Loretta Preska issued an injunction that allows religious groups to continue to worship in public schools.
Lawyers for the church groups argued that since schools allow student groups to hold prayer meetings and other religious activities on site, it should not be denied to church group when school is not in session.
Judge Preska on Friday again agreed with them and upheld their right to worship.
The conflict dates back to 1995, when the city first tried to evict dozens of churches, saying their regular presence amounts to a blurring of the separation of church and state. The city argued that the formal weekly services are different than after-school prayer or Bible study groups. The Supreme Court has ruled both of those are absolutely permissible.
Last year, Judge Preska rejected that distinction. She said the First Amendment obliges schools to broadly accommodate religious groups.
A federal appeals court overruled her, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case — letting the victory for the city stand.
The city gave the churches several weeks to clear out, but earlier this year the churches came back to federal court and tried a different First Amendment argument. They have remained in the schools as the case has moved forward.
City attorneys said they will return to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which has said it will try to resolve the case before schools open in September.