Wednesday, a federal appeals court turned down New York City government’s attempt to block churches from renting space for worship services in public schools. The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals urged the federal district court to make a final decision on the churches’ right to rent public school space for worship services by the end of the school year.
Last Friday, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Loretta Preska issued a preliminary injunction against the New York City Department of Education attempt to exclude worship services as an allowable activity by community groups renting public school space. The injunction came in response to an application from the Bronx Household of Faith. The judge expanded the force of her decision to cover all religious groups renting space for worship services in the public schools. In a strongly worded opinion Preska said that the Bronx Household of Faith would likely win its case on the constitutional grounds of freedom of religious assembly and expression and that the church would suffer irreparable harm from the city school regulation. She said it appeared that the city government was "targeting" churches for discrimination.
Preska’s preliminary injunction came after the city government told the judge that in their haste they couldn’t wait for her final decision on the case. The city lawyers turned down any informal delay, implying that they were renting out the church space as fast as they could. There were widespread reports from religious groups that they were being grilled about their activities and that the city school officials refused to provide any guidelines on how they determined what are “worship services.”
This week, the NYC government lawyers requested the Second Circuit to block the district court judge’s preliminary injunction. In a two-page order the appeals court declined the city’s request. The appeals court order implied that the churches might keep meeting at least until mid-June. It encouraged the district court judge to act quickly, at least by mid-June.
NYC government’s senior legal counsel Jane Gordon issued a statement calling the 2nd Circuit’s decision "unusual.”
We will grant worship service applications starting tomorrow,” said Matthew Mittenthal, the city schools spokesman, “so long as organizations are otherwise compliant with our regulation on use of school buildings.”
Pastor Bill Devlin noted that right after he broke his fast of 42 days "the 2nd Circuit Court gave us a major victory!"
Setback for Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to kick out the churches from the public schools
Today, a federal appeals court turned down NYC government’s attempt to block churches from returning to their worship sites in public schools.