Did you know that a federal appeals court has ruled that churches may not use public schools on the weekend for worship services? Although some in the legal community have been following this case for many years, most of my listeners were shocked to hear that the Second U.S. Circuit of Appeals ruled that the New York City Board of Education had the right to prohibit churches from using public schools. The judges argued that this effectively allowed “schools to be converted into churches on Sunday” and would be a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
The ruling came in a case brought on behalf of the Bronx Household of Faith, which is an evangelical Christian church that wanted to hold Sunday services in a public school. They had held worship services at Public School 15, and more than twenty other congregations in New York have used a school building on Sundays as their regular place of worship.
The Alliance Defense Fund has been fighting this case since 1995. Despite several Supreme Court rulings that specify that the government must allow religious groups to have the same access to government buildings as other groups, the Second Circuit Court ruled otherwise. It did say that the city rule does not exclude prayer, religious instruction, expression of devotion to God and the singing of hymns. Apparently it included those activities to allow it to comply with a Supreme Court ruling in 2001 known as Good News Club vs. Milford Central School.
Obviously there will be an appeal and one would hope that the Supreme Court would reverse this decision. We are not just talking about a few dozen churches in New York City that would be displaced by this ruling. If it were applied across the country, it would have an impact on thousands of churches that use schools and other government facilities for worship.
If these trends continue, churches might be hit with a one-two punch. Many local governments have zoned available land in such a way that it would be difficult for churches to build a facility. And then a ruling like this could impact churches that could not build but would want to conduct worship services in the local public school. I’m Kerby Anderson, and that’s my point of view.