Churches Can Use City Schools for Worship During Appeal

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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.