I agree completely with Hemant on the appeals court decision in the case involving the Bronx Household of Faith and its attempt to rent public school facilities during non-school hours. I’m a little astonished at the hair splitting the court is doing to deny their right to do so. Here’s what the NYC public school policy says:
No outside organization or group may be allowed to conduct religious services or religious instruction on school premises after school. However, the use of school premises by outside organizations or groups after school for the purpose of discussing religious material or material which contains a religious viewpoint or for distributing such material is permissible.
The BHOF tried to rent a school auditorium to hold church services first in 1994, then again in 2001. The court has twice ruled on directly comparable issues, first in a 1989 case involving a school near New York City. That case was Lamb’s Chapel v Center Moriches School District. That was a rare unanimous decision that said that if you’re going to allow outside groups rent school facilities for events and meetings, you can’t discriminate against religious groups. That ruling was pretty obviously correct.
The second was Good News Club v Milford Central in 2001, which likewise ruled that a school can’t deny the formation of a religious club in school, even if it’s being supported by an outside organization. Again, this is the correct result. Imagine what would happen to SSA clubs without that ruling (and without the Equal Access Act, which forbids such discrimination as well). But here the appeals court is doing some major hair-splitting in deciding what kinds of religious activities can go on.
Religions that conduct religious worship services are not excluded by Reg. I.Q. [the Department of Education’s policy] from the use of school facilities. They may use the facilities to teach religion, read from and discuss the Bible, advocate their religious views, sing hymns, say prayers, and do all things that must be permitted under the rule of Good News Club. Such religions, it is true, may not use the school facilities for the conduct of religious worship services.
Seriously? They can teach religion, read the Bible, advocate their religious views, sing hymns and say prayers — but they can’t have a worship service. What exactly is the distinction there? I don’t see one that could possibly be legally relevant. This is a terrible decision and I fully expect it to be overturned by the Supreme Court if they hear the appeal.