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Efforts this week to overturn New York City’s ban against religious organizations’ use of public schools made progress.
On Feb. 24, District Court Judge Loretta Preska issued her second injunction against the ban, allowing more than 40 churches to continue meeting at public school facilities.
“Churches that have been helping communities for years can once again offer the hope that empty buildings can’t,” Alliance Defense Fund senior counsel Jordan Lorence said in a statement. Lorence has been representing one of the affected churches, Bronx Household of Faith, in District Court.
In her decision, Preska said Bronx church would likely win its First Amendment challenge and had demonstrated it would suffer irreparable harm if it could not continue to use Public School 15 for Sunday morning worship services.
“In this court’s view, losing one’s right to exercise freely and fully his or her religious beliefs is a greater threat to our democratic society than a misperceived violation of the Establishment Clause,” Preska wrote in her opinion accompanying the order.
The city appealed the District Court decision, but on Wednesday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had overturned Preska’s first injunction, denied the city’s appeal, allowing the injunction to remain in effect. But the 2nd Circuit did urge Preska to issue a final decision by June.
As a result, New York City churches can continue to meet in public schools.
Wednesday’s decision came hours after Pastor Bill Devlin ended his six-week fast on behalf of churches in the city. He started the fast on Jan. 18, hoping to raise awareness about the plight of poorer churches who would have no where to meet.
Meanwhile, legislative efforts in Albany to overturn the ban entirely are still underway. A bill that would urge the New York City Department of Education to allow worship services inside public schools during non-school hours passed the state Senate earlier this month but awaits an audience in the state Assembly.
“New York legislators should continue efforts to overturn this policy,” Lorence said. “This [court] order prevents the city’s policy from being enforced while litigation continues, but legislators can resolve the issue once and for all by making the city get rid of the policy.”