Saturday, June 30, 2012

District Court's Permanent Injunction Lets Churches Rent New York School Building Space On Weekends

In Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York, (SD NY, June 29, 2012), a New York federal district court issued a permanent injunction barring the New York City board of education from enforcing a rule that keeps churches from renting out space in school buildings for their weekly services. While generally allowing community groups to rent out space outside normal school hours for meetings and activities, Chancellor’s Regulation D-180 precludes rental by churches that wish to use the space for worship services or wish to use the school space as a house of worship. Earlier this year, the court granted a preliminary injunction in the 17-year long dispute over the regulation. (See prior posting.) In granting the permanent injunction the court held that the Regulation violates plaintiff’s free exercise rights, saying that the rule imposes “a substantial burden on Plaintiffs’ free exercise rights,” while the school board raises only “a misperceived Establishment Clause concern.”.

The court found, further, that as administered Regulation D-180 violates the Establishment Clause by involving Board of Education officials in determining whether or not a group’s proposed activities amount to religious worship or use of the school building as a house of worship. This type of Board review requires state officials to inquire into religious doctrine. Alliance Defense Fund issued a press release announcing the court’s decision. The New York Times yesterday reported on the decision. Bloomberg News reports that the city plans an immediate appeal.