Court upholds New York's ban on worship services in schools
City says it cannot be perceived as endorsing religious activity
The Court of Appeals in New York (picture: Reuters)
New York City's ban on religious worship services inside school buildings after hours was ruled constitutional on April 3 by a federal appeals court.
In a 2-1 decision, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the New York City Board of Education's regulation, created so the city would not be perceived as endorsing religious activity in a public forum, "was consistent with its constitutional duties."
The rule prohibits school buildings from being used for religious worship services or as houses of worship, but the city allows groups to use schools for non-religious activities.
The appeals court's decision marks the latest chapter in a two-decade legal battle between the city's Board of Education and religious groups over the regulation.
It reversed a June 2012 decision from U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska, who permanently enjoined the city from enforcing the ban. Preska had held that allowing the worship services did not suggest that the school would be endorsing religion.
The 2nd Circuit said the regulation reflected the Board of Education's "reasonable concern" to abide by the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which provides for a separation of church and state.
Last week's ruling marked the sixth time the case, which the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review in 2011, was before the 2nd Circuit, the court said.
In the case, the Bronx Household of Faith, a conservative Congregational church, said the city's regulation violated its constitutional right to exercise religion free from government interference.
The court said April 3 the regulation would not violate the rights of the church.
"The Free Exercise Clause, however, has never been understood to require government to finance a subject's exercise of religion," Circuit Judge Pierre Leval wrote for the panel.
In dissent, Circuit Judge John Walker said: "Allowing an entity to use public school space open to all others on equal terms is hardly financing that entity."
Jordan Lorence, a lawyer for the Bronx Household of Faith, said he was disappointed with the ruling.
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