The Supreme Court rejected on Monday a plea from a tiny evangelical church in the Bronx to overturn New York City's ban on religious worship services at public schools.
The justices left in place a federal appeals court ruling that upheld the city's policy, which allows prayer and religious instruction but draws a line at worship.
"We're very disappointed," said Pastor Robert Hall of the 48-member Bronx Household of Faith, which has been pressing its case for 17 years. "We think this is a dangerous precedent that allows the state to make a distinction between various types of religious activity."
Hall's congregation has been holding its Sunday service at P.S. 15 since 2002.
The city said it risked blurring church-state separation if it allowed worship services in public schools.
About 60 groups had been allowed to worship in public buildings pending Supreme Court action, but the city said Monday that the practice will end Feb. 12.
Said Jane Gordon, a senior counsel for the city: "We view this as a victory for the city's schoolchildren and their families. The department was quite properly concerned about having any school in this diverse city identified with one particular religious belief or practice."
Hall said his church might have to rent a smaller space and hold two services.
"I'm concerned that other school districts that now permit religious groups to worship will reconsider," said Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund, who argued the church's case.
He said that with the defeat in the courts, the issue will move to legislatures where laws permitting worship can be considered.
New York City Councilman Fernando Cabrera said he would introduce legislation on Thursday that would allow worship in schools after school hours.
"This case was never about special treatment," he said. "It was about fairness and I fully intend to continue this fight until we see action."
Associated Press Writer Jim Fitzgerald in New York contributed to this report.