NEW YORK – After years of being rebuffed by public school officials for seeking equal treatment, the beleaguered members of the Bronx Household of Faith Church are breathing a lot easier today after a U.S. appellate court decision saying public school officials can’t lock them out of facilities used by other groups.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit handed down the 2-1 opinion in Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education Friday, June 6, 2003. According to an attorney representing the church, the opinion reverses 20 years of precedent.
"This court saw the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in 2001, Good News Club v. Milford, and decided there had been a sea-change," said Jordan Lorence, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund. The Alliance Defense Fund is a national legal organization based in Scottsdale, Arizona. "The federal appeals court reversed the New York City School Board’s policy that singled out religious instruction and worship from school buildings open to other community groups. The court struck down this discriminatory religious gerrymandering," Lorence said.
The church won the right to meet on Sunday mornings in a New York City public school building in June 2002 after losing an earlier case. The first case started in 1995. That was before the Supreme Court opinion in Good News Club, and the church lost.
In November, the Civil Rights Division filed an amicus brief supporting the church against the nation's largest school system. The Justice Department argued that there is no Establishment Clause violation if the church rents space from the school board for weekend services, and religious groups should be permitted to do just that.
Today’s opinion relied heavily upon another opinion in which the Alliance Defense Fund played a major role, Good News Club v. Milford. Today, the court said "Based upon our reading of the Supreme Court’s decision in Good News Club," the trial court was correct when it ruled earlier that the school board "violated their First Amendment free speech rights" of the church. "Central to our conclusion is a candid acknowledgment for the factual parallels between the activities described in Good New Club and the activities at issue in the present litigation."