New York City upholds ban on religious activities in public schools

It’s always good news when the separation of “church” and state is upheld. There’s nothing specifically about “mosque and state” in this particular ruling, which emanated from a lawsuit brought by an evangelical Christian group. However, it will be interesting to see if Muslims—who comprise a mere one to two percent of the American populace—will be allowed to have prayer spaces in schools, a “right” they have been gaining in many places in the U.S., Canada, UK and elsewhere. And, with the renewed “legislative effort” to overturn the law, the games will continue…

Churches to Lose Use of School Space After a Legal Push Fails

A small Bronx evangelical church on Monday lost the final round of its 16-year legal battle to force New York City to permit religious worship services in public schools, setting the stage for the city to eject dozens of churches and religious organizations that have been using schools for prayer.

The Supreme Court announced that it would not review a lower-court decision that backed the city’s decision to ban the evangelical congregation, the Bronx Household of Faith, from holding its Sunday services at Public School 15, where it has worshiped since 2002.

As a result, the city said it would move to end the hundreds of prayer services that had been held in schools in recent years—some 160 congregations used school buildings for worship services in the 2010-11 school year alone— by Feb. 12, 2012.

“We view this as a victory for the city’s schoolchildren and their families,” Jane Gordon, the senior counsel of the New York City Law Department, said in a statement. She added that the Education Department “was quite properly concerned about having any school in this diverse city identified with one particular religious belief or practice.”

The case of the Bronx Household of Faith was nationally watched because it pit the First Amendment claims of churches against the concept of the separation of church and state. In many school districts around the country, religious organizations are permitted to use public schools for worship. But in New York, a city regulation, permitted under state law, blocks the practice.

Robert G. Hall, a co-pastor of the Bronx Household of Faith, first applied to use a public school to hold worship services in 1994, after the church outgrew its meeting places in private homes. When the application was denied, the church sued the Board of Education, losing all the way up through the United States Court of Appeals.

Then, in 2001, a Supreme Court case appeared to give the Bronx Household of Faith an opening. The court ruled that a public school district in Medford, N.Y., could not prevent a Christian youth group, the Good News Club, from using space in a public school after-hours as any other community group could, even though their activities included prayer, Bible lessons and the memorization of Scripture.

So the Bronx Household of Faith returned to court, winning an injunction against the city that for the first time required it to permit churches to use schools for worship until the legal case was settled. By 2008-9, there were 60 churches using public schools for worship, a number that continued to grow rapidly through this year.

When the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit made a final ruling in June, however, it sided with the city. Two of the three judges found that a worship service, like that of the Bronx Household of Faith, was significantly different from an after-school Bible lesson or an activity that included prayer.

“The churches tend to dominate the schools on the day they use them.”

“A worship service is an act of organized religion that consecrates the place in which it is performed, making it a church,” the judges wrote. The churches “tend to dominate the schools on the day they use them,” leading to a confusing situation for children who might believe the school was somehow a church, they added.

In addition, the churches were not equally open to every member of the public, the judges wrote. Bronx Household, for example, had acknowledged to the court that it excluded people from full participation in its services if they were not baptized, were excommunicated, or if they “advocate the Islamic religion,”  the opinion said.

Supporters of the Bronx Household of Faith argue that the Department of Education is now in the inappropriate position of determining the difference between a worship service and an activity that includes prayer—something that might be different for every religion and congregation.

“This is a very dangerous precedent,” Mr. Hall said in an e-mail, adding that he was “very disappointed with the court’s decision to not take the case.”

Matt Brown, the senior pastor of Park Slope Presbyterian Church, whose Sunday services will now have to leave the cafeteria of the John Jay High School campus, agreed, saying, “I would love to know who at the Board of Education is theologically capable of making those decisions.”

A legislative effort to rewrite the state education law that permits the city to ban worship services has already begun. On Thursday, a City Council member, Fernando Cabrera, is expected to announce on the steps of City Hall a resolution in support of a forthcoming State Assembly bill to change the law.

The world is being held hostage by the misogynistic, intolerant monotheistic Abrahamic cultus. How much is this delusion costing us, in money, resources and lives?

Further Reading

Muslim Student Association: How to Establish Prayer Rooms on Campus
Schools give special treatment to Muslims
New York Muslims Push for Prayer Rooms in Schools
U.S.: Public schools grapple with Muslim prayer
Toronto allows Muslim prayer in public schools, bans Christian, other prayer

© 2014 Freethought Nation, Acharya S, D.M. Murdock & Stellar House Publishing
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