NEW YORK — Alliance Defense Fund Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence is available for interviews on the ongoing debate in New York City concerning equal access to public buildings for city churches, including those in low-income neighborhoods. Lorence was the key attorney in ADF’s lawsuit that resulted in a court-issued injunction preventing the New York City school board from barring the Bronx Household of Faith from renting a public school facility.
Numerous New York churches offer community services not widely available in many neighborhoods. Lorence says that groups which oppose extending equal access to churches are ignoring the great benefits that churches provide to the community at large.
“These churches are an uplifting influence on communities all around the city,” said Lorence. “Troubled neighborhoods need the services they provide: marriage counseling, drug and alcohol counseling, food and financial help for the poor, just to name a few. To take this community-sustaining element away based on a twisted and extreme reading of the Establishment Clause would be inexcusable.”
Lorence added that opponents of equal access have mischaracterized the use of public buildings, including schools, as a move by churches to unduly influence the primary occupants.
“What we’re talking about here is at most two dozen total churches in 1,200 New York City school buildings,” Lorence explained. “The buildings are being used by literally thousands of non-religious community groups, and churches are being targeted for exclusion. These churches serve a great purpose where they’re needed the most and cannot be denied equal treatment.”
Lorence is hopeful that, once the smoke clears, constitutional principles will prevail.
“Since 1981, the Supreme Court has ruled that there is no Establishment Clause violation in similar cases,” he said. “Equal access is common sense. Religious groups should be allowed to rent public buildings on the same terms and conditions as all other community groups.”
In a Feb. 6 article in The New York Times, Lorence pointed out that New York area congregations are not asking for special treatment, explaining that New York state is “by far the most recalcitrant jurisdiction in resisting equal access for churches.”
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.