Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Case Involving Worship in NYC Public Schools

On March 30, the Supreme Court declined to review a case involving which groups can meet after hours in New York City's public schools. The Bronx Household of Faith, a small congregation, sued the city over its policy.

The city permits groups to rent school facilities for extended periods of time for "social, civic and recreational meetings and entertainment, and other uses pertaining to the welfare of the community." There are few limitations on extended use, but one prohibits using school buildings for "religious worship services" or as a "house of worship."

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Lawyers for the Alliance Defending Freedom argued that excluding worship services from "a broadly available public forum" discriminates against religion. The church, which has outgrown its own building, needs more space for special occasions and the nearby public school is the only place large enough that they can afford.

The appeals court, however, said the reason the space is affordable is because of taxpayer subsidies, and the school board is taking reasonable precaution against liability for appearing to unconstitutionally advance a particular religion.

"The Free Exercise Clause does not entitle Bronx Household to a grant from the board of a subsidized place to hold religious worship services," the appellate court ruled. Further, the court found no evidence the rule was "motivated by hostility to religion."

Naturally, opponents of the policy have expressed their disdain, and they are appealing to an unlikely ally to assist them in their fight.

Fernando Cabrera, a council member and pastor leading opposition to the policy said he was "profoundly disappointed" that the Supreme Court won't be hearing the case.

"We cannot ignore the immense contribution to society that religious organizations and institutions have made throughout our nation's history and continue to make across the U.S. today," he said in a statement.

"Churches meeting in New York City public schools for worship services have fed the poor and needy, assisted in rehabilitating drug addicts and gang members, helped rebuild marriages and families and provided for the disabled."

The Alliance Defending Freedom called on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to use his power to revoke the policy. De Blasio said last year he opposes the policy and believes "that a faith organization playing by the same rules as any community nonprofit deserves access."

What's next for the Bronx Household of Faith and other churches? That of course remains to be seen, but if De Blasio intervenes, he may create an interesting alliance.

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Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / VICTOR TORRES