The ongoing conflict between religious organizations and the Department of Education took another turn in favor of houses of worship after a judge’s decision to allow a Bronx church to use school facilities after hours was expanded to allow all similar groups that privilege.
On Feb. 24, Chief Judge Loretta Preska of the U.S. District Court granted a preliminary injunction that expanded a previous court decision to allow all houses of worship to use public schools for religious purposes when schools are not in session.
An appeal from the city followed, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided against the city on Feb. 27. A statement from the court said that “the interests of justice were not best served by hearing the appeal” from the city.
The Second Circuit Court’s ruling also included a directive to the District Court to come to a final decision on the case by June.
The decision expands on a Feb. 16 ruling that resulted in the issuing of a temporary restraining order against the DOE’s policy of banning religious organizations from using public schools for religious services.
The DOE’s policy has been in place since 2001 and was upheld in a June 2011 ruling from the Second Circuit Court on the grounds that allowing religious groups to conduct worship services in public buildings amounted to government endorsement of religion.
Religious groups, many of which do not have the funding to maintain private headquarters, spoke out against the DOE, claiming that the policy infringed on their right to practice their religion freely.
While the DOE has stood firm on this policy with the support of Mayor Bloomberg, members of the City Council have spoken out against it.
The state Legislature has also entered the conversation on the matter after the state Senate approved a bill that would overturn the DOE’s policy. The bill is awaiting consideration in the Assembly.
In a statement issued to the press, Senior Counsel Jane Gordon of the city’s Law Department called the most recent decision “unusual,” but praised the court for calling for “a speedy resolution to this litigation.
“We look forward to concluding this matter in accordance with the Court’s expedited timeline,” Gordon added.