NEW YORK – The New York City school system has repeatedly slammed the door on church requests to rent meeting space. But the Bronx Household of Faith, a church armed with last summer’s precedent in Good News Club v. Milford, will be knocking on the door again next week in federal court.
Most school systems don’t mind renting space to community groups. That is, unless you’re the New York City school system and the community group is a church.
Even though churches across the country are able to rent space from public school systems, the Bronx Household of Faith must go to court to do that. In New York, churches that essentially do the same things as many community groups – conduct ceremonies, sing, and teach – have been prohibited from using school buildings because of a supposed "separation of church and state."
The legal landscape changed during the summer of 2001 when the Supreme Court decided Good News Club v. Milford. The Milford school system argued that allowing a club to meet after school hours is an establishment of religion. The high court rejected that argument and reaffirmed its existing precedent that religious groups must be given the same access to school facilities as other groups.
"Everybody in the country but the public school system of New York City understands that the government doesn’t endorse everything it allows," said Jordan Lorence, the Alliance Defense Fund attorney handling the case. "People of faith ought to be able to use public school facilities on equal footing with everyone else. But they can't do that in New York."
Last summer, Lorence and the church went to school officials again with a request to rent space. Despite the Good News Club precedent, the school system is still saying no to the church, even though it allows dozens of other community groups to rent space. "The school system is saying that the Good News Club precedent doesn’t mean what it says about equal access," said Lorence. "This leaves us no option but court."
Because of the Good News Club decision, the Supreme Court has already ordered the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to review the circuit court’s opinion in Gentala v. City of Tucson, in which the lower court initially decided against a group sponsoring an event connected with the National Day of Prayer on city property.
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.