The city has lost its bid to ban religious institutions from renting space in public schools on weekends, as secular groups are allowed to do, according to the latest ruling in a case that has been in the court system for years. The ruling most directly affects community churches that do not have their own buildings in which to meet.
Federal Judge Loretta Preska determined at the end of June that banning churches from using schools when class is not in session was a violation of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.
The city had argued the opposite, saying that letting religious institutions use public schools violated the amendment’s establishment clause. But Preska, issuing a final injunction in a 16-year-old case that originated in the Bronx, sided with the churches.
The lawyer representing the religious organizations, Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund, was quoted in multiple media outlets as saying, “The court’s order allows churches and other religious groups to meet for worship services in empty school buildings on weekends on the same terms as other groups.”
Sixteen years ago, the Bronx Household of Faith sued the city over its policy preventing churches from holding worship services in public schools.
In December 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in the case. In February, the city Department of Education evicted more than 60 congregations.
But after a federal injunction was issued against the banishment, the churches were allowed to return to the school buildings until the end of June, when Preska was to issue her final ruling.
The City Council had a bill before it that would have overridden the Department of Education’s ban, but Speaker Christine Quinn declined to bring it up for a vote. It was supported by Queens members including Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) and Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) but opposed by others including Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights).