Court Extends Churches' Access to NYC Public Schools

While a judge is currently reviewing a New York City law banning churches from public schools, an appeals court has ruled that in the meantime churches can meet for worship at public school buildings.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals denied on Wednesday a request from the city government to compel U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska to allow enforcement of the ban while Preska considers the merit of the Bronx Household of Faith's suit to meet in schools.

Jordan Lorence, senior counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, is representing Bronx Household of Faith.

"ADF is grateful for the decision, because it extends religious liberty for the churches to meet in the public schools into the summer," said Lorence to The Christian Post.

The controversy over churches meeting in public school buildings in New York City began in the 1990s when Bronx Household of Faith, an evangelical congregation of around 50 members, had their application to hold Sunday worship services at a public school auditorium rejected.

In 2002, after years of legal battles against New York City's Board of Education, BHF got a temporary injunction allowing them to worship at the school. However, the legal issues continued for the small congregation, culminating with a ruling from the Second Circuit in June of last year where it was decided that the Board of Education could ban churches from holding worship services at public schools. The second blow came in December when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear arguments on the case.

The decision not only affected BHF, but around 60 other congregations that met at public schools throughout New York.

One such congregation affected by the events was Abundant Life Church, a Brooklyn congregation that used to meet at P.S. 91. At the time, the city had given the 60 some congregations until Feb. 12 to find new space outside of the school buildings. Abundant Life found that space, renting an annex of Beulah Church of the Nazarene known as the Hope City Empowerment Center.

All the while, members of the New York General Assembly crafted legislation meant to allow churches to use public school buildings for worship on Sundays.

Sponsored by New York Assemblyman Nelson Castro of Assembly District 86, Bill A 8800 would allow "the use of school buildings and school sites for religious meetings and worship when not in use for school purposes or when such service or worship is deemed not disruptive of normal school operations."

"ADF attorneys have led this court case from the beginning in 1995," said Lorence. "[We] will continue their strong advocacy for religious freedom in this case."

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