Court Upholds Ban on Religious Services in NYC Public Schools


A federal appeals court upheld a ban on renting public school facilities to religious organizations for religious services.

In my opinion this ruling is clearly discriminatory.

The reason I say it is discriminatory is that it is aimed at one group of people only. The city evidently allows rental of their school facilities to other groups for their private purposes. This ruling singles out religious groups and applies a prohibition to them that is not applied to other groups of people.

From Catholic News Agency:

A federal appeals court has upheld a New York City policy prohibiting religious services in public school buildings, a decision critics said wrongly targets churches for exclusion.

Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, objected to the April 3 decision, saying that “the First Amendment prohibits New York City from singling out worship services and excluding them from empty school buildings.”

He noted that the buildings are “generally available to all individuals and community groups” for activity related to the community’s welfare. Groups that are religious should not be excluded.

Two of the three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overruled a lower court’s finding that the city’s education department’s policy wrongly restricted the free exercise of religion.

The two appellate judges said the policy seeks to avoid the risk of illegally endorsing a religion.

The dissenting judge noted that among the 50 largest school districts in the U.S., New York City is the only one to exclude religious worship from school facilities.

Small churches in poor neighborhoods have said they are particularly affected by the rule since they rely on the inexpensive space, The New York Times reports.

The Bronx Household of Faith, a small church that describes itself as “community-based,” filed a legal challenge to the rule.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, backed the policy and contended that religious congregations were “dominating” public schools each Sunday.

She said that when a school is “converted to a church in this way” it sends “a powerful message” that the government favors that church.

However, critics say that renting out space to religious groups with the same rules and standards as non-religious groups is in full adherence with the Constitution.

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  • Manny

    They are renting the space. Why would that be a violation of separation of church and state? Church money is no good? This is nothing more than prejudice.

  • FW Ken

    I wonder when they will quit renting to AA. After all, they talk about God.

  • oregon nurse

    This is a hill I would not be willing to die on. But the question becomes whether the rentals to groups are a net gain or net loss to the taxpayer. If a net gain then I see no objection to religious groups since it doesn’t qualify as tax support. If a net loss, then I think a fair argument could be made – however, then it has to apply to all groups that are not specifically civic in nature.

  • Manny

    By the way, if you want to know just how anti Catholic New York has become, look at this article on our Governor:

    • hamiltonr

      The telling thing is that this is coming from fallen Catholics. How do you think the bishops should handle this Manny?

      • Manny

        Personally I think he should ex-communicate Cuomo. The article doesn’t even mention Cuomo is divorced and living with another woman. But practically Dolan has been tolerant, despite the anti Catholic legislation. Catholic clergy are very reluctant to get overtly political.

        • SisterCynthia

          Makes you wish for a St. John Chrysostom sometimes, doesn’t it? :-/

          • Manny

            I know it. But I do understand the resistance to being political. The Church needs to be there for both those on the right and the left. But unfortunately religious principles get glossed over.

  • pagansister

    Renting a space during the weekend to a religious group/faith isn’t, IMO, promoting any religion. That group is paying for the space just like any other group that might want to use it. If they leave their religious symbols or literature on the wall or in the space for the week in between the meetings, then I would consider that a reason to not rent—as the building(s) is a public school, not one run by a faith. However, just using it for Sunday services is just that—another group needing a meeting place one time a week.

    • FW Ken

      One criticism I read was that Muslims meet on Friday and would not have “equal access”. That was just a comment by a secularist, though.

      Also, there was a case (not Household of Faith) where the church gave money to the school for PTA events. They had a booth at one and gave out religious material at one of the events to people who came to the booth. Asked not to do that, they still gave money. I thought I read that Household of Faith did some painting and fix up at the school, but I can’t find the article I was thinking about.

  • pesq87
  • Bill S

    What if a Church rents out its hall for non-religious use. Should it be required to rent it out for a gay wedding reception?

    • pagansister

      It’s a party, and since the “wedding” has already occurred somewhere else,, we assume,and the after party (reception) is held in the public school, what would the problem be? Just another group wanting a place to party, IMO.

      • Bill S

        I believe a religious group should be entitled to rent a public school as much as I believe a same sex couple should be able to rent space at a church hall or any facility associated with a religion that rents out space for nonreligious activities. It goes both ways.

        • FW Ken

          I, for one, have no issue with a same-sex ceremony or reception being held in a public school. Or, for that matter, in our public botanical gardens (a more common site for weddings).

    • Dale

      Bill, are you asking if they should be required, or are you asking if they would be required? Unless the US Supreme Court reverses the trend, the lower courts have been backing public accommodations law as forbidding discrimination in such cases. If a church opens its hall to all comers, for a fee, they don’t have a legal right to reject gay people.

      Loyola University of Chicago recently restricted use of its campus buildings to weddings which are sanctioned by the Catholic Church. Loyola was forced to do this to make sure their halls were not counted as public accommodations. The university did decide to allow anyone to rent its Cuneo Mansion, which is popular for wedding receptions, and located many miles from campus.

    • Archaeopteryx

      False equivalence. A privately owned church building (as opposed to a rented space as is being discussed here) is not a public space, and as such the renting or not of it is up to the discretion of the owners.

  • abb3w

    Since CNA does not seem to give a link, the ruling appears to be here.

    On the one hand, the rental is effectively tax-subsidized — and tax subsidy of religious worship has been considered at least politically injudicious ever since Madison published his “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments”, and perhaps legally as well since Everson. On another hand, the majority ruling does not address how precedent of Rosenberger v UVA reshapes the argument, though the dissent does; this seems a grave weakness, that strongly leads me to expect that the appeal will at least be heard.

    I suspect it will come down to the question of whether the state can draw a line, and limit subsidy to speech (even when religious) but exclude religious worship.

  • pesq87

    How come nobody here ever addresses the court’s reasoning?