City Begins Issuing Permits for Churches to Worship in Schools

The Department of Education began to issue permits Friday that allow churches to continue meeting for worship in public schools on the heels of a federal judge’s ruling temporarily halting their eviction, but the ruling may only apply to the church that applied for the order.

Clergy and politicians gathered at City Hall Steps the day after a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against New York City’s ban of using public schools for services, granting churches a 10-day stay.

Attorneys for the city, however, noted that the TRO is only applicable to the Bronx Household of Faith congregation, and they are the only congregation allowed to worship in schools during the 10 days or fewer that the TRO is in effect.

City officials said that any pending permits, or granted permits, for worship will be either revoked or denied.

After the ruling, the city’s law department said it would “seek immediate appellate review” of the decision.
Jack Roberts, co-pastor of the Bronx Household of Faith, said the federal judge’s decision elated his congregation.

“I think it’s a victory for religious freedom, which I think is crucial for the stability of any nation,” Roberts said. “And our nation has profited I think from the freedom or religion, freedom of conscience that has characterized the American way.”

Bronx Household of Faith, a small church in University Heights, lost a 16-year battle with the city in December over the use of public school facilities outside normal hours.

A federal appeals court upheld a city Department of Education policy against religious worship at schools, and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case in December.

Subsequently, the city announced all congregations would have to stop using public school spaces by February 12.

In his weekly WOR radio address on Friday, the mayor again said he believed the Constitution prohibits worship services in a public building.

“If a law gives you an issue, you have a right to be heard before a judge who can make a decision, and then there’s an appeals process,” he said.

The state Senate passed the bill that would allow churches to continue holding services in public schools this month.

But the Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver called that bill “seriously flawed,” because it would open up the schools to anyone, including the Ku Klux Klan.

On Friday, Bronx Councilman and pastor Fernando Cabrera, called on the Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to allow the bill to come up for a vote.  

“We’re expecting him now to use the language that came forth to be a part of the bill,” Cabrera said, referring to the federal judge’s decision. “We’re still waiting for him to take the step forward.”

Spokeswoman for the Speaker said his opinion “has not changed,” and that the “court’s ultimate determination” would guide his further action.