A federal judge issued a temporary reprieve today to a small Bronx church seeking to overturn New York City’s ban on hosting worship services in public schools after hours.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska said in her ruling she would block the ban for 10 days because the Bronx Household of Faith would suffer “irreparable harm” if the ban took effect. The ban, which was first set to be enforced on Monday, has been in the courts since the mid 1990s, and the Bronx church argues it violates the First Amendment.
State lawmakers got involved last week, when the Senate passed a bill that would allow the practice statewide, essentially trying to overturn the New York City policy through a state law. Assembly Democrats have expressed reservations, but talks were ongoing regarding a possible compromise.
New York City officials said they would immediately appeal the temporary block. The city’s ban only applies to worship services, and allows religious groups to rent school space for other events.
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, called today’s ruling a “positive development” for religious institutions.
“This decision is the right one, and it ensures that members of religious institutions aren’t subject to discrimination and otherwise prevented from utilizing public facilities which are open to others,” Skelos said in a statement.
The New York Civil Liberties Union called the decision “a disappointment.”
“(T)he facts in this case are clear: Churches in New York City are holding worship services Sunday after Sunday, year after year, sending a message to both students and the community at large that the government favors these churches,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement.