Court Questions Use of School Space for NYC Churches Helping With Hurricane Relief

A Christian legal organization that has been defending the rights of New York City churches to continue meeting for worship services at public schools on weekends says the city is seeking to evict them while they are still helping Hurricane Sandy victims.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said on Monday that after-hours worship services for Christian churches exalt the religion above others, which is against the Constitution.

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence, who has been representing local churches in the Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York case, shared with The Christian Post that three judges heard arguments from both sides, but that no decision has been made as of yet.

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"Which means that, for now, the injunction remains in effect, so churches and other religious groups are allowed to continue meeting in the NYC public schools," Lorence told CP. "We should get a decision in several months. Whomever loses will probably appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court."

In June, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska issued a permanent injunction against the regulation that puts a ban on worship at NYC public schools – but now the appeals court will also have to issue a decision in the coming months.

The Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York legal battle has been going on for nearly 18 years now, with the city still trying to evict churches from after-hours worship services at public schools.

The Associated Press noted that on Monday, two of the three judges present on the panel sounded likely to vote against the churches.

Judge Guido Calabresi reportedly told Lorence that he was "troubled by your argument that the Constitution requires a city to allow a religion to do what you do simply because it is a religion."

"That is a remarkable argument. You want to do what goes beyond what everybody else does," Judge Calabresi continued.

Judge Pierre Leval reportedly added that the rule applies to everyone – no religion is allowed to stage worship services at New York public schools, and churches can't really claim that a ban would be discriminatory.

Lorence has argued, however, that the churches that meet at public schools do a very important job for the community, and recently have helped out in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, one of the worst storms to hit the Tri-state region in recorded history.

"Churches that have been helping communities for years should be allowed to continue to offer the hope that empty buildings can't," Lorence said. "The Constitution requires New York City to allow churches and other religious groups to meet for worship services in vacant school buildings on weekends on the same terms as other groups. It is tragic that the city continues its efforts to evict the very groups that are selflessly helping the city's communities, including the public schools themselves."

He further contended that religious school groups and organizations, like the Boy Scouts, are allowed to participate freely in the same practices that churches engage in on school property, such as singing hymns, saying prayers and reading from the Bible – but the city is arguing that there is a distinction between those activities and allowing churches to take school space as their primary place of worship.

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