Sarah Jean Seman

Nearly three years ago Americans celebrated a First Amendment victory—now, the U.S. 2nd Court of Appeals reversed the decision, allowing New York City to ban religious groups from holding services in school buildings.

The New York City Board of Education is now free to enforce Reg. I.Q. which states: “No permit shall be granted for the purpose of holding religious worship services, or otherwise using a school as a house of worship.”

The court claimed the Board’s prohibition “was consistent with its constitutional duties” and also asserting the ban had nothing to do with “hostility to religion.”

As reported by the New York Daily News:

The battle has been raging since the mid-1990s, when the Bronx Household of Faith church first sued to hold Sunday services in a school. The 20-year-old case has bounced through the legal system over the years, with the U.S. Supreme Court refusing at one point to hear it.

Mayor de Blasio, as a candidate, supported the position of religious groups seeking space in school buildings. But he didn’t fully commit Thursday to scrapping the ban.

“I stand by my belief that a faith organization playing by the same rules as any community nonprofit deserves access,” de Blasio said. “I think they deserve access...but we’ll assess the court decision and we’ll look from there.”

Bronx Household pastor Robert Hall shook his head and was dismayed by the ruling.

“We’re very sad about it. This is about our rights,” said Hall, whose church is weighing whether to file another appeal.

“There seems to be an increasing attempt to marginalize Christianity in civilization.”

He said congregations should be free to worship whether they can afford high rents or not.

But the New York Civil Liberties Union called the ruling “a victory for religious freedom.”

“When a school is converted to a church in this way, it sends a powerful message ... that the government favors that particular church.Our Constitution gives all New Yorkers the right to worship — or not — as they choose,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director.

The First Amendment prohibits singling out and excluding worship services from empty school buildings, according to Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence:

The First Amendment prohibits New York City from singling out worship services and excluding them from empty school buildings. The reason is because the buildings are generally available to all individuals and community groups for any activity ‘pertaining to the welfare of the community.’

There is no subsidy of churches here. Churches and religious groups pay the same uniform rates that everyone else does to use the schools. We are seriously considering an appeal in this case, either to all of the judges on the 2nd Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The immediate ramifications of the 2-1 decision are unclear. Perhaps Mayor Bill de Blasio could be persuaded to to actions and support his stance supporting the rights of organizations.


Sarah Jean Seman

Sarah Jean Seman is a Townhall Web Editor. Follow Sarah Jean Seman on Twitter @sarah_jean_

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography