Skip to main content
Supreme Court of the United States

9/11 and Bronx Household of Faith

By Jordan Lorence posted on:
October 17, 2017

The 9/11 anniversary reminds me that nine years ago this month, I completed the legal pleadings for a lawsuit on behalf of a small church named Bronx Household of Faith against the Board of Education of the City of New York. Joe Infranco and I represented (and still represent) the small, intrepid church that has successfully challenged the Board of Education's ban on private groups renting school facilities for worship services during nonschool hours.

I completed the documents on Friday, September 7, 2001 and shipped them to Joe Infranco's office in Long Island for filing the next week. He planned to file the papers on Tuesday, so I wrote that date on the complaint: September 11, 2001. The date looks eerie in light of the horror that was to come on that day.

The federal courthouse in lower Manhattan stands only a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center. The devastating terrorist attacks disrupted everything in lower Manhattan - roads blocked by debris, businesses destroyed or shuttered, phone service nonexistent or spotty for weeks. Judges and others at the federal courthouse on Pearl Street were cut off, communicating with the outside world only with cell phones. For some reason, the only cases that the judges could deal with were the newly-filed ones, so Joe and I attended court hearings in the months right after the attack.

What I remember the most from those visits to lower Manhattan was the smell -- the acrid stench of burnt plastic assaulted those emerging from the subway, probably from the miles of wiring in the destroyed buildings. The smell lingered for months after the attack.

And I remember homemade signs -- rows and rows of homemade signs posted on the plywood blocking the streets around the World Trade Center - signs looking for a lost uncle or mother or girlfriend or son "Last seen 9-11," hoping that maybe their loved one was unconscious and nameless in some hospital rather than another one of the victims of the brutal and fanatical hatred.

One day, in November 2001, the state attorney general's office invited us to their offices in Manhattan to discuss whether the State of New York should enter our case against New York City. About a half dozen lawyers met us in a board room with a large window to the outside - a window that looked down on the devastated wreckage of the World Trade Center. One of the state attorneys said something like, "we know to delay the start of any meeting we have in this room so that our visitors can see the horror of the destruction."

I also noticed the people on the streets. They walked as if in shock, even weeks after the attack. And they seemed united by the tragedy. That got me thinking that maybe the terrorist attack might be the way to resolve this case quickly. So I wrote a letter to the attorney for the Board of Education of the City of New York, dated September 26, suggesting that the Board of Education temporarily suspend its policy against worship services in order to help Bronx Household of Faith, as well as the people of New York suffering from the attack:

My goal is to be flexible and work for a resolution of this matter in the best spirit of community that has arisen in New York City after the tragic September 11 attack. I live in the D.C. area, and the attack on the Pentagon has given us a taste of what New Yorkers are going through. In light of what has happened at the World Trade Center, and in light of the Supreme Court's Good News Club decision, I think these policy restrictions barring religious services and instruction are now unconstitutional, are obsolete public policy and need to be abandoned.

Sadly, the Board of Education ignored my olive branch, and continue their fight against religious groups meeting on weekends and weeknights for religious expression, including worship services. Right now, churches and other religious groups are meeting in public schools because of a permanent injunction prohibiting the Board of Education from enforcing the unconstitutional policy. The Board of Education has appealed the permanent injunction. ADF defended that permanent injunction before the federal appeals court for New York City last October. A decision could come any day now.

As we approach the ninth anniversary of the murderous attack by Islamic terrorists on the World Trade Center, I hope that the school officials would recall those dark days of September 2001, and how New Yorkers and all of America pulled together for mutual comfort and support in a zenity of unity that our nation has not seen for some time. In the spirit of those times right after the 9/11 attack, I pray that the school officials in New York would change this unconstitutional policy, and welcome churches and other religious groups to worship freely.

Jordan Lorence

Jordan Lorence

Senior Counsel, Director of Strategic Engagement

Jordan Lorence serves as senior counsel and director of strategic engagement with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he plays a key role with the Strategic Relations and Training Team.

Private Employers Challenge President Biden’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

This blatant exploitation of federal law is an attempt to force employers, even private and religious employers, to submit to medical procedures just because they have a job.

The God’s Not Dead Franchise Continues Clashing with Hollywood Dogma

God’s Not Dead: We the People finds Reverend Dave (David A.R. White) called on to defend a group of Christian families when government agencies infringe on their right to homeschool their children.

Child and parents
ADF to AG Garland: Concerned Parents Aren’t “Domestic Terrorists”

Parents expressing concern over CRT, gender theory, and COVID-related mandates in public schools do not qualify as “domestic terrorists.”