Churches across New York City were preparing to hold worship services in spaces rented from public schools Sunday before discovering that a court order this week did not apply to them.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York had issued a 10-day restraining order Thursday as it waited to decide an appeal in a case that banned churches from renting space in public schools for worship services.
About 50 churches applied for permits after the decision. Even Mayor Michael Bloomberg believed the decision applied to all churches, and the city approved the permits.
The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals announced Friday, however, that the decision had been misunderstood. It only applied to one church, Bronx Household of Faith, which initially brought the case to court.
The city then revoked the permits it had already granted, except the one for Bronx Household.
Some pastors complained that the mix-up caused logistical difficulties for their worship service plans.
"We can't just move churches one week then move them again the next week. I think we need a couple weeks' notice," James Park, senior officer at New Frontier Church, told The Independent.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Good News Club v. Milford Central School (2001) that public schools cannot discriminate against an organization's religious viewpoint when deciding what organizations are allowed to use its facilities.
A U.S. appeals court upheld the city's ban on worship services, arguing that the ban is constitutional because it bans a religious activity, worship, not a religious group from public school facilities.
The district court is expected to release a written decision by Feb. 27. Meanwhile, an amendment to a bill in the New York state legislature would revoke the city's ban on worship services in public schools. The New York Senate passed the bill, 52-7, on Feb. 6. The lower house, the Assembly, has yet to vote on the measure.