New York – The New York City School Board has for years denied churches rental space in public schools, but those days appear to be gone.
A persistent church, the Bronx Household of Faith, led the way for others when it won another battle late last week to gain equal access to a New York City public school building. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit refused the school board’s request to stop the church from meeting on Sunday mornings in one of its facilities. The church is represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, a national organization that trains, coordinates, and funds attorneys across the country to advocate for religious liberty, sanctity of human life, and the traditional family.
"New York seems to be getting the message," said Jordan Lorence, the Alliance Defense Fund attorney handling the case. "Most jurisdictions in the country realized a long time ago it is unconstitutional to single out religious beliefs for exclusion from facilities generally open to all. This is a victory for people of faith everywhere in America."
The church acted on the standing orders of the trial court and began meeting in a school two Sundays ago. Even though the church won in federal district court in June, the school board asked a panel of judges with the Second Circuit to stop the church from meeting, pending an appeal. On Friday, August 23, 2002, the Second Circuit denied the school board’s motion, and the church will continue meeting.
Federal District Judge Loretta Preska ruled in June that the school board violated the church’s First Amendment rights by singling out worship services for exclusion from its buildings, which are open to everyone else. If the New York School Board had been able to stop the church from meeting, the Alliance Defense Fund was prepared to apply to the United States Supreme Court to vacate the order of the appeals court.
"We were ready for that possibility," Lorence said. "Precedents handed down from the U.S. Supreme Court, such as Good News Club v. Milford in 2001, another case the Alliance Defense Fund was involved with, support the church’s arguments. We were ready to do whatever was necessary for the church."
The mission of the Alliance Defense Fund is to protect and defend traditional family values, religious freedom, and the sanctity of human life. The Alliance Defense Fund first argued the case for the Bronx Household of Faith in 1995. A new complaint was filed after the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Good News Club v. Milford gave the church a better opportunity to win in trial court.
According to Lorence, this case highlights the importance of alliance building. "A key brief written by Agudath Israel of America was submitted to the trial court," Lorence said. "It was great to have others support the cause of equal access for people of faith."