Appeals Court Issues Weird Church/State Ruling


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.

Comments

  1. eric says

    School districts on both the liberal and conservative sides seem to have a real problem understanding the concept of a public forum.

    It would be nice if SCOTUS ruled on this one, because it would line up a precedent for the non-right of businesses to refuse to serve same sex marriages. During those times when you are operating your school building as a business, you cannot discriminate against customers you don’t like. If that upsets you, stop renting your space out for money. Now, hmmmm, let’s think about how this might apply to other cases. Let’s say you’re a church that rents out its building for marriages to people of many different faiths….

  2. cry4turtles says

    How about churches that rent space to the BSA with a lesbian den mother? Popcorn time for sure!

  3. Michael Heath says

    eric writes:

    School districts on both the liberal and conservative sides seem to have a real problem understanding the concept of a public forum.

    I nominate this for the 2014 fallacy of balance argument.

  4. abb3w says

    @1, eric

    During those times when you are operating your school building as a business, you cannot discriminate against customers you don’t like.

    While that somewhat works, it’s not clear it’s perfectly congruous here. The “rental” charge in this instance is merely covering of actual custodial costs, rather than including any capital amortization or other fair market rate components. A case could be made that this is not mere commerce, but includes a de facto government support subsidy.

    As such, while it’s hair-splitting to draw the line at worship services, it does seem the single activity that’s most absolutely and utterly proscribed from government subsidy.

  5. says

    …There is no distinction there, whatsoever. It’s like they said “You can wear costumes, recite lines, execute choreography, and sell tickets, but you can’t stage a musical”

  6. Nihilismus says

    So, are they allowed to “teach religion” by doing a hands-on lesson and walking through how a ceremony would hypothetically be done?

Leave a Reply