Churches Can Use N.Y. Schools for Worship, Judge Says

New York can’t refuse to allow religious groups to use city public schools for worship services, a federal judge ruled in a lawsuit brought by a Bronx church.

The dispute dates to 1995, when the Bronx Household of Faith sued the city for allegedly violating the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment by denying it use of a school while giving other community groups access to campuses for their activities.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan in February denied the city’s bid for a preliminary injunction which would have allowed it to enforce a ban on worship in public school facilities. The appellate court sent the case back to U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska, who had temporarily given the church permission to keep meeting at the school.

Preska today made that permission permanent, saying the regulation that allows community groups to use public schools for activities outside normal school hours, while banning their use for religious services, violates the clauses of the First Amendment concerning religion.

“We strongly disagree with the district court’s view of the facts -- including its finding that the high rents in New York City require the government to provide religious organizations government-subsidized space for purposes of worship,” Jonathan Pines, deputy chief of the general litigation division of New York’s law department, said in a statement.

He said the city plans to appeal the decision immediately.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News. The case is 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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