Seventeen years ago, in 1995, a small New York City congregation, the Bronx Household of Faith, was told that it could not rent school facilities for weekend use because it would violate the Establishment Clause. New congregations, congregations that outgrow their own buildings, and congregations whose facilities have suffered fire or flood – all need to rent space, particularly in the expensive real estate market of New York City.
Bronx Household went to court, claiming that the New York City school district was violating its free speech right. The church lost in the district court and Second Circuit, but did not give up.
Then the Supreme Court issued its Good News Club v. Milford Central School opinion in 2000, in which the Court strongly suggested that the Bronx Household decisions were wrongly decided. The church went to court again and won. Since 2002, dozens of NYC churches have rented space on weekends for their services.
But the school district continued to rework its policy to keep the churches out. In 2007, the Second Circuit upheld the school district’s latest policy that allowed churches to meet for religious speech and discussions -- but not for religious worship services. When the Supreme Court turned down the church’s petition for review in December 2011, the case seemed over.
But then the Supreme Court issued its January 2012 decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, breathing new life into churches’ free exercise claims. The congregation went back into the district court, claiming this time that the school district’s policy violated its free exercise rights.
Today the district court ruled in favor of the church and all NYC churches. But the school district is quite likely to file another appeal in the Second Circuit.
Please pray for the Bronx Household of Faith and all churches in New York City that rent school facilities. Pray that the Second Circuit will uphold their right to do so. Pray for Jordan Lorence, the attorney faithfully representing the church for seventeen years, and Rick Claybrook who has drafted CLS’s most recent amici briefs in the case. Finally, please pray for Justice Breyer and his work on the Supreme Court.