This week’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to let stand a lower court ruling permitting the city of New York to block churches from meeting for worship services in empty public schools on weekends is profoundly troubling. Not just in its implications for religious freedom, but for what it says about what we are teaching the children who meet in those schools during the week.
Because the lower court ruling (from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit) stands in square opposition to the rulings of other federal appeals courts around the country on similar cases, its decision effectively creates two constitutions – one for congregations in New York, Connecticut, and Vermont, another for the rest of the country. How much equal access your church may have to public buildings depends entirely on the state in which you live.
More troubling, though, is that the Second Circuit’s decision ignores the presumption – built into the DNA of our nation – that religious freedom needs to be protected. That DNA is now the subject of substantial “genetic engineering” in America’s current legal and popular culture, and this case – Bronx Household of Faith v. the Board of Education of the City of New York – is an excellent example.
For nearly 40 years, Jack Roberts and Robert Hall, co-pastors of Bronx Household of Faith, have been an intimate part of their inner-city neighborhood, six subway stops north of Yankee Stadium. They’ve watched the ethnic and cultural tides come and go – as Jews made way for the Irish, the Irish for the Italians, the Italians for African-Americans and Hispanics. Between them, their families have raised 18 children in century-old frame houses, sharing one mostly concrete backyard and the daily joys and challenges of bringing Christ to an area that cab drivers and even police would prefer not to drive through.
Across those nearly four decades, they’ve earned and re-earned the respect of their ever- changing neighbors – so much so that, in the early 1990s, local officials approached Hall and Roberts about launching some community after-school programs for children in the increasingly volatile neighborhood. The co-pastors offered a combination of Bible stories and recreation, and both school officials and parents gave the okay.
Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor in the Reagan Administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.