New York City will immediately appeal a Manhattan federal judge’s refusal to unblock the city’s ban of worship inside public school facilities, a city lawyer said.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska yesterday again granted a request from the Bronx Household of Faith to allow its members to continue meeting in a city public school on Sundays. The order may also affect religious groups that have previously requested permission from the city to worship in schools.
Preska temporarily halted the city’s ban on Feb. 16 for 10 days. A federal appeals court in New York narrowed that ruling on Feb. 17, saying that only the Bronx Household of Faith could worship at a public school in the Bronx.
“The City plans to take an immediate appeal,” Jane Gordon, a lawyer for the New York City law department, said in a statement after yesterday’s ruling. “We believe that this court’s decision is inconsistent with the recent Second Circuit order and that court’s prior decision on the case’s merits.”
Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan, overturning Preska’s 2007 decision in favor of the church, ruled that the city may prohibit religious groups from using school facilities outside of regular school hours for worship services.
The legal battle dates to 1995, when the church sued the city. The church argued the city was violating the First Amendment by denying it use of a school while allowing other community groups access to campuses for their activities.
Preska has since issued orders allowing churches to worship at public schools, finding on other legal grounds that they have a right to do so. The latest ruling came yesterday in a 51-page opinion.
The U.S. Supreme Court in December refused to consider the appeals court’s ruling reversing Preska’s decision. Lawyers for the church returned to argue before Preska that the city’s ban violates the First Amendment’s free-exercise clause, which forbids government interference in religious activities.
Religious groups that have pending applications will have their requests for worship evaluated subject to the preliminary injunction, the city said in its statement. Groups that haven’t applied or whose applications were denied before Preska issued her ruling today, won’t be given access to city schools this weekend, the city said.
The case is Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York, 01-cv-08598, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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