Religious groups may rent spaces in public schools for meetings just as other organizations can, a federal judge ruled recently.
The decision by Judge Loretta Preska of the Federal District Court in Manhattan, N.Y., allows the evangelical Bronx Household of Faith church to rent space in a public school for four hours every Sunday.
The government may not treat activities that are similar to those previously permitted as different in kind just because the subject activities are conducted from a religious perspective," Preska wrote in her court opinion.
The case of The Bronx Household of Faith v. New York Board of Education ended with the judges decision, which was handed down on Nov. 16 following a decade-long battle by in the courts.
The Board of Education in New York City did not want the church's presence in the school, saying that it did not want to be affiliated with a particular religion and that the churchs presence violated the separation of church and state. The district said it would immediately appeal the ruling.
We are concerned about having any schools in this diverse city become identified with any particular religious belief or practice, said Lisa Grumet of the city's law department, according to the New York Times.
In 2001, the Supreme Court had ruled in the case of Good News Club v. Milford Central School that religious teachings on school campuses did not differ from similar secular lessons on morality and character development.
The judge, however, citing cases in recent years, ruled that the government would become excessively entangled with religion if it were to go about trying to differentiate how secular and religious moral teachings differed.
"This ruling is big news because New York has fought this concept of equal access and is one of the last government entities resisting what the Supreme Court has said," said Jordan Lorence, a lawyer with the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund, according to the New York Times. ADF, which was founded for the purpose of aggressively defend religious liberty, represented the church.