The battle over whether churches should be permitted to rent New York City public school space to hold worship services intensified after former Mayor Michael Bloomberg officially evicted houses of worship from public space in February 2012.
But Mayor Bill de Blasio is striking an entirely different tone, saying earlier this month that he will allow churches to continue the religious events in public school buildings, as the Wall Street Journal reported.
"I believe that a faith-based organization has a right like anyone else ... to use that space," de Blasio recently said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at Cooper Union in New York, Thursday, April 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
The courts have been volleying back and forth over the issue for years, though a lower court did find the Department of Education's initial ban unconstitutional in 2012. But that was hardly the end of the battle and churches were allowed to continue renting worship while the courts hosted the years-long debate.
Most recently, the decision took a turn in early April when the U.S. Second Circuit of Appeals upheld New York City's right to ban church rentals.
But rather than follow in his predecessor's footsteps, de Blasio spoke out in favor of allowing churches, like any other group, to rent space. He even pledged to update city rules to allow it.
Had de Blasio remained silent and not pledged to change the regulations, around 30 churches renting space would have been, once again, forced out of doing so.
It's unclear whether amended regulations have officially been adopted and an inquiry from TheBlaze has not yet been answered by the mayor's office. That said, at least one church held services over the weekend, with its pastor praising de Blasio's policy reversal.
"I feel like now we can focus our attention on being a good neighbor," the Rev. Jon Storck, of Grace Fellowship Church, told the Wall Street Journal after service Sunday.
Grace Hill Fellowship Church meets in P.S. 150, a public school in Queens, New York
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg doubled down on a controversial church ban barring churches from renting public space (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Clear Channel)
As the legalities are still being debated, Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal firm, also took action, filing a petition with the full U.S. Second Circuit of Appeals Wednesday in hopes of striking the 2-1 ruling that came down in favor of the ban earlier this month, Charisma News reported.
The petition will ensure that the churches can continue meeting while the court decides what to do with the request. While this may no longer be an issue once the city officially amends its regulations, it's possible free speech advocates are hoping for a legal victory to ensure that future bans aren't implemented.
The argument against church rentals, which is espoused by Bloomberg among others, is predicated upon the notion that allowing churches to rent space for worship services gives the appearance that the city is unconstitutionally aligning itself with Christianity (most of the churches renting space are of the Christian faith).
“Someday the religion that the state picks as the ‘state religion’ might not be yours,” Bloomberg said when the ban was put into effect in 2012. “The way to solve that is to not have a state religion.”
The history of the legal battle is long and complicated. It didn't start with Bloomberg, as the fight began back to 1995, though it still rages nearly 20 years later. Read more about the complex history here.
(H/T: Wall Street Journal)