Comment from Rocco: Court Bans Religious Services in Schools

 

Thurgood Marshal U.S. Courthouse, home to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Credit: Ken Lund via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Thurgood Marshal U.S. Courthouse, home to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Credit: Ken Lund via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

.- A federal appeals court has upheld a New York City policy prohibiting religious services in public school buildings, a decision critics said wrongly targets churches for exclusion.

Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, objected to the April 3 decision, saying that “the First Amendment prohibits New York City from singling out worship services and excluding them from empty school buildings.”

He noted that the buildings are “generally available to all individuals and community groups” for activity related to the community’s welfare. Groups that are religious should not be excluded.

Two of the three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overruled a lower court’s finding that the city’s education department’s policy wrongly restricted the free exercise of religion.

The two appellate judges said the policy seeks to avoid the risk of illegally endorsing a religion.

The dissenting judge noted that among the 50 largest school districts in the U.S., New York City is the only one to exclude religious worship from school facilities.

Small churches in poor neighborhoods have said they are particularly affected by the rule since they rely on the inexpensive space, The New York Times reports.

The Bronx Household of Faith, a small church that describes itself as “community-based,” filed a legal challenge to the rule.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, backed the policy and contended that religious congregations were “dominating” public schools each Sunday.

She said that when a school is “converted to a church in this way” it sends “a powerful message” that the government favors that church.

However, critics say that renting out space to religious groups with the same rules and standards as non-religious groups is in full adherence with the Constitution.

“There is no subsidy of churches here,” Lorence observed. “Churches and religious groups pay the same uniform rates that everyone else does to use the schools.”

The Bronx Household of Faith plans to appeal the decision.

During the long legal dispute, the community has built a church building across the street from the public school it once used in the University Heights neighborhood, Robert Hall, the church’s co-pastor, told The New York Times. However, he said its legal case will continue because it still plans to use the school building and because of the larger legal issue.

The policy allows social, civil and recreational groups to use public school buildings; religious groups may use the buildings, though not for worship services.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, unlike his predecessor Michael Bloomberg, opposes the ban on worship services.

“I stand by my belief that a faith organization playing by the same rules as any community nonprofit deserves access. They play a very, very important role in terms of providing social services and other important community services, and I think they deserve that right.”

 

3 responses to “Comment from Rocco: Court Bans Religious Services in Schools

  1. Its disappointing to see things like this people act like their chances of getting into a heavenly afterlife depend on whether or not other people share the same religious beliefs.

  2. If you can use a movie theater as a church, I don’t see how it hurts to use a school’s gymnasium or multipurpose room for religious services. The kids are not forced in the school to go to said church, and if locations are poor or expensive, I guess it’s fine. But, there are churches everywhere, depending on areas. It makes more sense for a low income area to do so, but it revolves around one specific branch of beliefs. If this was a Jewish temple, or something else, I’m sure people would be furious. For no real reason whatsoever.

  3. It’s one thing to ban religious ceremonies in a public school during school hours, but it is another to ban religious groups from using the school outside of operating hours entirely. If any other community groups can use the school for meeting or whatever is the case, so should religious groups. If the court bans one type of group, ban them all.

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