Supreme Court Upholds Religious Workshop Ban in Schools

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to uphold a ruling that prevents religious groups from using public schools facilities for worship services outside of normal school hours, upholding a New York City Board of Education policy against religious worship at its schools, writes James Vicini at Reuters.

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the Bronx Household of Faith, an evangelical Christian church, citing the need for church-state separation. The church wanted to use a local school for Sunday religious services, including singing of hymns, prayer and preaching from the Bible. But the appeals court ruled that allowing the event to take place would violate constitutional requirements.

The services would send the message the government endorsed religion, it said.

The Bronx Household of Faith sued the district after originally being turned down from applying to use a local middle school for its Sunday morning church services.

A federal judge later granted an injunction allowing the services, this led to a city official estimating that about 60 congregations in 2009, including the Bronx Household of Faith, use classrooms and auditoriums for worship after school hours and on weekends.

However, the appeals court has now set aside the injunction in ruling for the Board of Education.

Jordan Lorence, an attorney for the Bronx Household of Faith, said that the policy against religious worship amounted to “viewpoint discrimination” and the appeals court authorized “censorship of private religious speakers.”

“This court’s review is needed to resolve an issue of exceptional and recurring importance, namely whether the government may exclude religious worship services from a broadly open speech forum,” Lorence said.

New York City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo opposed the appeal, saying most schools have after hours and weekend programs for children, and they or their families may feel less welcome if they identify the school with a particular religion or congregation, he said.

“Children — especially younger children — are very impressionable and vulnerable; they think in absolutes, and they are likely to misconstrue a congregation’s use of their school for its worship services as their beliefs being sponsored or supported by the school,” he said.

As Justice Sonia Sotomayor may have been involved in reviewing it previously as a federal judge in New York, she took no part in considering the case. Yet, the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal without any comment.

The Supreme Court case is Bronx Household of Faith v. New York City Board of Education, No. 11-386.