A small church in the Bronx borough of New York City is hoping to have an impact on houses of worship across the country, as the Supreme Court considers hearing its potentially landmark case that would determine if religious groups have the right to worship in public buildings, such as schools.
The Bronx Household of Faith is currently holding worship services in a public school in the northwest part of the borough. In New York City, religious institutions are allowed to hold Bible studies and other religious activities in public schools in exchange for a small operation fee (enough to cover maintenance and security), but the city draws the line at worship services.
"You're allowed to have all the components of a worship service – but not the actual worship service," Jennie Hall, the wife of one of the church's pastors, told The Christian Post.
"That doesn't make any sense," she said.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the question of whether or not a church can use a public building, such as a school, has never been addressed by the Supreme Court, despite the many church and state separation issues the justices have reviewed.
Hall told CP that the court will announce its decision on whether or not to hear the Bronx Household of Faith's case toward the end of November. If the court takes the case on, it will mark another battle in a long war that has dragged on since 1994, when the church was first prevented by the New York City Board of Education from renting a public school for Sunday services.
Since then, with the help of the Alliance Defense Fund, the church has gone through numerous appeals, suffering a setback after each time it achieved a victory. But now, as the church comes close to having its voice heard by the highest court in the land, it is not so much about a single church as it is about freedom to worship.
With rents so high in New York City, it is extremely difficult for houses of worship to afford "houses." According to WSJ, the congregation at Apostles Church meets at a middle school. If they were to have to pay market rates, their rent would quadruple, pastor JR Vassar said, making it much more difficult to operate.
That difficulty, Bronx Household of Faith says, should be eliminated by a legal right for a religious organization to use public schools as houses of worship in order to pay less than the going real estate market rate. This would make it easier for all religions to be practiced – and not just Christianity, Hall says.
"Schools should be open to any religion," Hall told CP. "If you're going to rent out a school, don't single out a religion."
The Bronx Household of Faith, founded in the 70s, has purchased property in the neighborhood, and has been raising funds to complete building a home church on the property. According to the church's website, the ministry has raised $1,200,000 to date, and needs an additional $800,000 to complete the building project.