Churches Can Use City Schools for Worship During Appeal

Sunday, July 03, 2011

education, classroom, school, school supplies, class, teachers, students (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Churches that have been holding Sunday services in New York City public schools can continue doing so for now — but that could all change if the city gets its way.

A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the arrangement last month when it found the city is entitled under the U.S. Constitution to bar worship from schools.

The case involves a small evangelical church called the Bronx Household of Faith. The church has since appealed the recent ruling by asking the entire court to hear the case.

"We're hoping that a higher court will change that," said Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which represents the church. "Or maybe even the decision-makers themselves will realize how arbitrary it is to single out worship services out of all the myriad uses of things that go on in the public schools."

A Department of Education spokesman said the city will continue granting permits for religious services for the new school year, but he said the DOE can revoke them depending on the outcome of the litigation.

During the 2008-2009 school year, more than 60 churches were holding Sunday services in New York City public schools. The city has not updated that number since then.

The Bronx Household of Faith lost its original suit against the city's ban on religious worship in the public schools in 1995. But it won its second attempt after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that a Bible club in Milford, New York, had the right to meet in the public school. Since then, it's been holding worship services at PS 15 and the city has been fighting the arrangement.

Lorence said his client is hoping to prevail again, and will take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. But if the Bronx Household of Faith loses this next round, he says it will pitch a tent on property across the street where it's in the process of building a permanent home.

"That's what they did in the past before they moved into the school," he said.


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Comments [4]

Todd from Park Slope

Those churches pay fees to use the schools. I attend one of those churches and we pay tens of thousands of dollars to use the auditorium.

Our church also volunteers to paint schools during the summer months.

Last year, one school did not have equipment needed to produce a theatrical production -- so our church provided sound and lighting equipment free of charge.

Another principal informed our church that some students did not have the necessary supplies needed because of economic hardships. So our church members chipped in and purchased school supplies for the students.

So please don't assume that churches are getting anything for free. We are not. We are paying the same rate as anyone else who rents a school building.

Jul. 05 2011 08:07 AM
carolita from nyc

whatever happened to separation of church and state? I don't pay my taxes to house churches in public schools. Isn't it enough that actual churches get benefits from the govt? get them out of the schools. For that matter, who decides what religion is valid for using the public schools? How much you want to bet muslims or hindus or wiccans aren't allowed to hold services there, only christians? Not that I want any of them in there.

Jul. 03 2011 04:32 PM

Thank goodness! I was so shocked to see that my son's former elementary school in Forest Hills was being used by a marginal group of storefront preachers to hold Sunday services. Does anyone even vet these people who come into our children's schools on the weekends and leave who-knows-what behind?! And why is it that the schools are not used more for children's recreational activities, academic and homework help, etc., etc.

Jul. 03 2011 11:42 AM

Pitching a tent is also illegal on someone
else's property. You don't need the courts if
you follow the law.
Religion is trickery, superstition, and shame.

Jul. 03 2011 04:38 AM

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