NYC government is reviewing the possibility of almost immediate expulsion of over 60 churches that have been meeting in the public schools. Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish and Muslim groups who meet in the schools also may be affected.
The Law Department of the city said that the Education Department was reviewing the possibility of expelling religious groups from using school buildings for worship services at the end of the school year. The NYC Department of Education lists the last day of the school year as June 28th.
The city government says it will still allow secular groups to meet in public schools. City Hall lawyers have been trying for almost twenty years to place religious groups in a special category different from other community groups so that it could block their equal access to public facilities. The city allows hundreds of community groups to use the public schools for various purposes. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the city cannot block freedom of religious or secular expressions of belief or devotion. However, the city argues that it can block certain types of activities like worship services, arguing that these activities are not “expressions of belief” but expressions of “content.”
The Bronx Household of Faith is a small church that has put most of its efforts and money into helping the poor. Its founders Pastors Bob Hall and Jack Roberts moved into the University Heights neighborhood several decades ago in order to live “among the poorest and neediest.” For years its members have cared for AIDS patients from the poorest socio-economic groups. The church says it was able to put more money into helping because, since 2002, they obtained space from Public School 15. The church meetings at the school attract about 100 people.
The city and Judge Pierre N. Leval, for the majority opinion, argue that the church’s meetings tended “to dominate” the school on Sunday and this would lead to a public perception that the school endorses the church. The city and Leval based their argument on their estimates of public perception but did not adduce any public opinion research that the school’s neighbors knew of the church’s meetings in the school or thought that it represented an endorsement of the church.
Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) the lawyers for Bronx Household of Faith, are planning an appeal of the decision. ADF's Jorden Lorence says that the dissenting judge's "analysis rightly explains how the Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected the arguments the school board has raised to defend its policy."
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Document: Bronx Household vs Board of Education