Appeals Court Ruling: Ban on Worship in NYC Schools Constitutional - The Jewish Voice
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Appeals Court Ruling: Ban on Worship in NYC Schools Constitutional

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Evan R. Bernstein, the ADL New York Regional Director said,
Evan R. Bernstein, the ADL New York Regional Director said,
A New York City federal appeals court upheld the current that exists on holding religious worship services inside school buildings after school hours. The court ruled that the ban was constitutional on Thursday, April 3, Reuters reported..

In a 2-1 decision, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the City Board of Education’s regulation, which was created to ensure that the city wouldn’t be misunderstood be as endorsing religious activity of any kind in a public forum, “was consistent with its constitutional duties.”

The rule prohibits school buildings from being used as houses of worship or for religious worship services, but it will still allows city schools to be used by groups for non-religious activities.

According to Reuters, the ruling marks the latest development in a legal battle that has lasted more than twenty years between the city’s Board of Education and religious groups.

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,” Reuters reported.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals said the regulation reflected the Board of Education’s “reasonable concern” to abide by the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause. That provision created the separation of church and state.

Vosizneias reported that the most recent ruling marked the sixth time the case was presented to the 2nd Circuit. Furthermore, as Reuters noted, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the issue in 2011.

In Thursday’s case, the Bronx Household of Faith, which is a conservative Congregational church, claimed that its constitutional right to exercise religion free from government interference was violated by the ban.

But the appeals court disagreed, saying 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.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Friday praised the ruling, calling the decision that will uphold the prohibition using of public schools rent-free for religious worship “well-reasoned.”

The ADL New York Regional Director Evan R. Bernstein, issued the following statement on Friday, April 4:

“The public schools in our religiously and ethnically diverse city should not be used as houses of worship. It is important for New York City schools not to convey a message of religious exclusion and divide residents along religious lines.”

“We welcome this well-reasoned decision and believe it strikes the proper balance between free exercise of religion and the improper mixing of church and state. In particular, it affirms a long-standing legal precedent allowing public schools and other public entities to proscribe activities that could result in violations of the First Amendment.”

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, according to Reuters.

“To single out the religious users and call that a subsidy is like saying the government subsidizes a Jewish synagogue by allowing it to hook up to the water system,” Lorence said. “These are common benefits available equally to everyone, and religious worship services should not be singled out.”

Lorence, of Alliance Defending Freedom, a public interest group that litigates religious liberty cases, said his team was considering asking the entire roster of 2nd Circuit judges to review Thursday’s decision.

Asked about the decision on Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters that he had not read it, but he believed religious groups should be treated the same as non-religious organizations.

“I stand by my belief that a faith organization playing by the same rules as any community non-profit deserves access,” de Blasio told reporters. “They have to go through the same application process, wait their turn for space, pay the same rent.”

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