In the University Heights neighborhood of the Bronx in New York City, poverty, crime, and broken families are all too familiar. Naeem Henry grew up in the Bronx, and he recalled it as a crime-ridden borough filled with “restless kids.”
Rather than fall victim to those circumstances, Naeem spent his time playing basketball and hanging out with friends in the backyard of Bob Hall, a pastor at Bronx Household of Faith.
Pastor Hall and the rest of the staff at Bronx Household of Faith have dedicated their lives to transforming their community, often changing lives in the process. Naeem called the church “pivotal” in his process of maturing from a boy into a man. But instead of celebrating all this work the church was doing, the City of New York prohibited it from meeting in public schools to conduct worship services.
What is Bronx Household of Faith?
Bronx Household of Faith is a church in the Bronx borough of New York City. Pastors Bob Hall and Jack Roberts founded it in 1971 with the goal of bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to their surrounding community.
Since many of the church’s members lived in the University Heights neighborhood and surrounding areas, Bronx Household of Faith started out by meeting in houses in the community. As the church continued to gain members and regular attendees, the need for a larger meeting space became clear. But when church leaders applied to rent school facilities from the New York City school district, as many other nonprofits in the community were allowed to do, they learned of New York’s discriminatory policy against religious groups using the spaces for worship services.
In 1995, Bronx Household of Faith requested permission from a local school district to hold its services in school facilities. Even though many other nonprofits were allowed to rent space from the school district, the New York City Board of Education denied the church’s request because it had a policy preventing groups from renting school facilities for “religious worship services.”
Bronx Household of Faith filed a lawsuit, and in June 2002, a federal district court in Manhattan granted an injunction that allowed churches to rent school facilities for religious services. For nearly 13 years, the injunction remained in effect, allowing at least 60 churches to meet across all five boroughs of New York City.
But in the spring of 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit overturned the district court’s ruling that had stood for well over a decade. This meant that Bronx Household of Faith and other churches like it could once again be barred from renting public-school facilities for worship services.
Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom asked the Supreme Court to hear the case later that year, but the Court declined, allowing the 2nd Circuit’s decision that threatened churches to stand.
Thankfully, just hours after the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he would change the city’s policy to allow equal access for religious groups seeking to rent space for worship services. This decision protected Bronx Household of Faith and the many other churches in the city by allowing them to continue meeting in schools.
- 1995: Bronx Household of Faith filed a lawsuit challenging a New York City policy that barred groups from renting school facilities for “religious worship services.”
- June 2002: A federal district court in Manhattan granted an injunction that allowed churches to start renting school facilities for their services.
- April 2014: After almost 13 years, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit overturned the district court’s ruling, threatening dozens of churches that were meeting in schools.
- September 2014: ADF attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
- March 2015: The Supreme Court declined to hear the case, meaning the 2nd Circuit’s decision threatening churches could stand. Thankfully, just hours later, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he would change New York City’s policy and ensure churches had equal access to rent school facilities for worship services.
The bottom line
The government cannot single out religious organizations and treat them worse than any other nonprofits.