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NYC Church Fights to Use School Buildings for Services

Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 04:47 PM

By Bill Hoffmann

A New York City church plans to fight all the way to the Supreme Court over a policy that prohibits worship services in the city's schools .

"We are going to appeal this to all the judges on the federal appeals court, which is about 12," Jordan Lorence, attorney for the Bronx Household of Faith, told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.

"And if not, then we'll take this to the U.S. Supreme Court," Lorence said Tuesday.

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the policy April 3, saying the rule does not violate First Amendment protection of religious liberty.

The New York City Board of Education could evict dozens of congregations that use school facilities for prayer services.

The appeals court's decision is the latest ruling in a 20-year-old legal battle involving the Bronx Household of Faith, an urban church that describes its primary purpose as bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ "to the streets."

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The ruling struck down a lower-court decision that blocked New York from enforcing the ban because it violated First Amendment protections.

"New York City is the only major school district in the country that prohibits religious groups from using the empty school buildings on the weekends for worship services," said Lorence, senior counsel and senior vice president of Alliance Defending Freedom.

In "Los Angeles, or Chicago, or Miami-Dade County, which I think are the No. 2, 3, and 4 largest school districts in the country, after New York, which is No. 1, it is no problem for a church or synagogue to rent a public school on the weekends."

He likened the decision to a storyline out of "Nineteen Eighty-Four," George Orwell's classic dystopian novel, noting that churches pay a fee to use school property.

"Even though they’re paying for it, the appeals court in one of the most Orwellian sections said that it was a subsidy to religion raising 'establishment clause' concerns," Lorence said.

"If you're the Boy Scouts or you're a labor union . . . or if you're the filmmakers that make the 'Law and Order' episodes, they rent the schools . . . So, they're basically limiting only the religious users who do worship services from this benefit that's publicly available to everybody else."

Lorence also represents a New Mexico photo studio that refused to photograph a lesbian couple's commitment ceremony — in an alleged violation of the state's Human Rights Act.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the studio, allowing a high court ruling to stand against Elaine Photography.

The high court said the studio was in violation for refusing to take pictures at the same-sex ceremony "in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races."

Co-owner Elaine Huguenin said snapping same-sex wedding photos violated her religious beliefs and she had a right of artistic expression under the First Amendment.

"The Supreme Court could've stepped into this case and said something significant . . . but it chose not to," Lorence said. "What we are seeing is it has emboldened those who support redefining marriage to include same-sex couples. To basically go on these hunts for people that believe marriage is one man and one woman and then hold them up for public persecution.

"This is causing a lot of people to say, wait, what's going on here? Maybe this is this whole campaign to change the definition of marriage, which is getting out of hand if what it means is going after people who believe marriage is one man and one woman. That that's not a free society under the First Amendment."

Lorence's group, Alliance Defending Freedom, describes itself as a "servant ministry building an alliance to keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel by transforming the legal system and advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family."

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