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Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Case Over NYC Ban on Using School Space for Church

"I can assure you this wasn’t strategic planning on our part."

Public schools are often used for non-educational purposes during after-school and weekend hours. Among the groups that often seek to rent these buildings out are churches. If and when a house of worship doesn't have a physical location, these taxpayer-supported buildings serve as a viable substitute.

However, in New York City, public schools will no longer host after-hours religious worship services, as the Supreme Court has rejected an evangelical church's plea for the High Court to overturn a contentious government ban. This inaction on behalf of the nation's top justices ended a legal battle that began back in 1994.

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear the case and left in place a federal appeals court ruling that upheld the city's policy. In a game of judicial volleyball, a federal appeals court upheld the policy in June, reversing the previous stance of a district judge.

The Bronx Household of Faith is an evangelical Christian church that has held Sunday services at P.S. 15 in the Bronx since 2002. The church services have been allowed to continue pending the outcome of the school's lawsuit against the city. Now the church, which only has 48 official members, will need to find a new home.

Church officials and members say the city allows many groups to use school buildings after hours. But the city says that it risks blurring church-state separation if it allows worship services in public schools. Boston.com has more about the church's involvement in the lawsuit, which was championed by the conservative group Alliance Defense Fund:

Robert Hall, co-pastor of the evangelical Bronx Household of Faith, said last week that his little group never expected to get involved in a big-time court case that has now lasted 17 years.

“I can assure you this wasn’t strategic planning on our part,’’ the 68-year-old Minnesota native said. “Basically we just outgrew the place we were meeting,’’ a Christian halfway house for men.

Considering the implications of imposing such a law, one wonders how churches without the funds to build, rent or purchase space in NYC will survive without the much-needed public-school space.

According to the city government, roughly five dozen congregations used public schools for their religious services in 2009.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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