New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has agreed to revisit the rules banning churches in the city from renting public school space, announcing through a spokesperson that he has plans to ensure that houses of worship have the same rights as other groups to lease space.
The city's apparent change-of-heart on the matter comes after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a plea from the Bronx Household of Faith, a New York City church that until recently met in a public school, to hear a lower court ruling that found the ban to be constitutional.
This is the third time in two decades that the high court has seemingly backed New York City in the ongoing legal conundrum.
As The New York Times reported, the decision gave de Blasio permission to "expel immediately dozens of religious organizations that have been holding worship services in city school buildings after hours and on weekends," though he has chosen a different course.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks to the media during a news conference on Monday, July 28, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
"The administration remains committed to ensuring that religious organizations are able to use space in city schools on the same terms provided to other groups," de Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell said in the wake of the court's decision. "Now that litigation has concluded, the city will develop rules of the road that respect the rights of both religious groups and nonparticipants."
Norvell said that the churches that have been allowed to use school space while the case waited before the Supreme Court will continue to be able to do so while the city explores revising the rules, according to the New York Daily News.
It's currently unclear what a change would look like and whether new churches not currently renting space would be welcomed into the fold.
TheBlaze has extensively covered the New York City church debate since 2012, noting that de Blasio had refused as of January to overturn the ban. Previously, the mayor had received praise from the faithful for seemingly coming to the rescue of houses of worship, as he initially pledged to overturn the restrictions that were previously adopted and upheld by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“I believe that a faith-based organization has a right like anyone else … to use that space,” de Blasio said at the time, pledging to update city regulations to reflect that sentiment.
But he never updated those rules, with the ban remaining in place through Monday when the Supreme Court made its decision not to hear the case. It's important to note that de Blasio’s administration also submitted a petition to the Supreme Court on January 12, claiming that the city’s ban is permissible and that it doesn’t impose “prohibition, restraint, or burden on religious exercise.”
New York city mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a press conference at the Capitoline Museum (Musei Capitolini) as part of a visit on July 20, 2014 in Rome. (ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
“The department’s decision to make public schools available to religious organizations for a wide range of activities, but not for worship services or as a house of worship, is constitutional,” the city argued, according to World. “The policy does not prohibit, limit, or burden any religious practice; does not entangle the government in matters of religion; and does not impair petitioners’ ability to speak freely.”
But the new-found claims from the de Blasio camp seem to give credence to the Times' contention that the mayor has distinguished himself as "a more religion-friendly liberal" who often sides with faith groups.
As of 2012, more than 100 churches were looking to rent schools for the purpose of holding services.
The Bronx Household of Faith is an evangelical Christian church that began battling with the city over Sunday services held at P.S. 15 in the Bronx back in 1995; the church secured its own building last summer. Read more about the debate here.
(H/T: New York Daily News)