May 2015 Church & State | AU Bulletin

New York City may continue to ban churches from renting public school facilities after the nation’s highest court refused to hear a challenge to the practice.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to act ends a 20-year legal battle over the ban. It is typically legal for churches to meet in public schools when class is not in session, but New York City enacted a policy banning worship and other activities, such as partisan political rallies and private parties, in public schools.

In 1995, the Bronx Household of Faith applied for a permit to rent space for Sunday services in a local public school. The city Department of Education rejected their request due to a long-standing policy. Church leaders sued, arguing that the ban violated their First Amendment rights. They have been rep­resented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Religious Right legal group.

In a statement, ADF attorney Jordan Lorance called the city’s policy “religious segregation” and added, “If the city chooses to use this occasion to evict the churches, it will be shooting itself in the foot.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has indicated that he does not intend to evict churches from public school buildings; churches began renting the spaces as the city defended its policy in court.

But the ACLU’s New York state affiliate objected. Its executive director, Donna Lieberman, told The New York Times, “They have an obligation to ensure that there is no appearance of official endorsement of any of the religious activities that go on in the schools.”

De Blasio has not yet an­nounced an official policy in response to the lawsuit’s resolution. The case is Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York.