New York Can Enforce Ban Against Use of Schools for Worship

New York City can enforce a ban on the use of public schools for worship services, a U.S. appeals court said, restricting a judge’s temporary halt on the ban to only the group that brought the lawsuit.

“The district court’s finding that Bronx Household has shown likelihood of success on the merits of its case does not justify enjoining the board from enforcing its order against non-parties,” the appellate court in Manhattan said yesterday.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska on Feb. 16 granted a 10-day temporary order blocking the city’s ban. The Bronx Household of Faith had sought the order to allow its members to continue meeting in a New York City public school on Sundays, in contravention of an order that went into effect Feb. 13.

Last year, the appellate court, overturning Preska’s 2007 decision in favor of the church, ruled that the city may prohibit religious groups from using school facilities outside of regular school hours for “religious worship services.”

The legal battle dates to 1995, when the Bronx Household of Faith, an evangelical Christian church, sued the city. The church argued the city was violating the First Amendment by denying it use of a school while allowing other community groups access to campuses for their activities.

The U.S. Supreme Court in December refused to consider the appeals court’s ruling reversing Preska’s decision. Lawyers for the church returned to argue before Preska that the city’s ban violates the First Amendment’s free exercise clause, which forbids government interference in religious activities.

Jordan Lorence, a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund in Washington who represents the Bronx Household of Faith, said in a phone interview the appeals court’s order didn’t deal with the merits of the case.

“It’s somewhat disappointing but it’s not a major ruling,” Lorence said.

The case is The Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York, 01-cv-08598, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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