New York City can keep religious services out of its schools without violating free speech, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.
The 2-1 decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan overturned a lower court decision that allowed the Bronx Household of Faith to hold services in a public school.
The three-judge panel said that the city Board of Education had a strong basis to be wary that permitting religious services in schools, and thus effectively allowing school to be converted into churches on Sunday, would be found to violate the establishment clause of the Constitution, which bars Congress from making a law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of one, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The ruling means that dozens of churches that rent public school buildings in New York City could face eviction by the end of June.
The church has made the school the place for the performance of its right, and might well appear to have established itself there. The place has, at least for a time, become the church, Judge Pierre Leval wrote for the majority.
The dissenting judge said the decision violates the group's right to free speech.
The appeals court also said that as Sundays are the principally available days for public schools, there is an unintended bias in favor of Christian religions because Jews and Muslims generally cannot use schools on the day when their religions generally have services.
A layer for the church said they would appeal the ruling.
We're disappointed in the ruling, said the lawyer, Jordan Lorence. We think that it is contrary to what the Supreme Court has said at least five times since 1981, that churches and other religious groups should be given equal access to meeting in government buildings on the same terms and conditions as everybody else. This is not a special privilege or subsidy. Bronx Household of Faith is asking for no special favors but to be treated exactly the same way as other community groups.
Bronx Household has held its worship services at Public School 15 and nowhere else every Sunday since 2002.