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Federal Judge in New York Rules With Religious Groups for Access to Public School Space


Churchgoers in the Bronx are rejoicing after a win late last week in what has been an ongoing feud with the government of the City of New York regarding churches renting public schools in off-hours for worship. On Friday, George H.W. Bush-nominated U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska ruled in favor of the Bronx Household of Faith to continue meeting Sundays at P.S. 15, despite a recent ruling from the 2nd Circuit court that upheld regulation D-180, the city's ban of permits for the purpose of holding religious worship services or using a school as a house of worship.

"We are very disappointed with the District Court's ruling mandating that the Department of Education allow churches and other religious groups to worship in public schools after hours," Courthouse News reports City lawyer Jonathan Pines wrote. Pines has vowed to appeal the decision.

"In finding that the Constitution requires that result, the District Court virtually ignores a Second Circuit appeals court decision, issued one year ago, rejecting the plaintiffs' Free Speech claims."

In her 59-page order, Courthouse News reports Judge Preska ruled that the appeals court did not consider the Free Exercise Clause in their decision last year, further arguing "[G]iven the uniquely expensive and crowded real estate market in which the Church resides, eviction from the Board's schools would amount to a concrete loss of religious freedom." Judge Peska granted the church a permanent injunction in the case.

Bronx Household of Faith Rev. Robert Hall told the New York Daily News that his church was grateful for the decision following a legal battle with the city Department of Education that lasted since 1995.

The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court last December, but the Court decided not to hear the case, in turn letting the lower court ruling stand. The previous ruling sided with the Department of Education and left 60 religious groups citywide without a place to worship.

Courthouse News notes that Judge Preska named ten religious groups including the Christian Legal Society and Council Of Churches Of The City Of New York, Brooklyn Council of Churches, Queens Federation of Churches and American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan New York, while quoting an amicus, or "friend-of-the-court," brief arguing that the Framers would have permitted religious services in government buildings.

Judge Preska was asked by the federal appeals court to rule this month so that it could consider the case before the next school year begins in September. Judge Preska had been reportedly considered for nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 by President George W. Bush.

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