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NY May Bar Church Group from Using Schools for Worship, 2nd Circuit Says

Posted Jun 3, 2011 9:21 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal appeals court has ruled that New York City may ban religious services at schools outside of school hours.

The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the ban is a reasonable restriction, imposed in an effort to avoid a violation of the establishment clause. The schools do not charge rent and the city was concerned it was subsidizing churches. Also, the schools were more often available on Sundays, creating a bias in favor of Christian groups, according to the appeals court’s 2-1 decision.

The New York Times, the New York Law Journal, the New York Daily News and the Associated Press have stories.

The Bronx Household of Faith had challenged the policy, citing Good News Club v. Milford Central School. The 2001 Supreme Court decision found a school policy had improperly barred religious groups from teaching about morals and character from a religious standpoint, while allowing morals instruction from a secular standpoint, according to the 2nd Circuit’s description of the ruling.

The appeals court said the school policy in the Bronx Household case does not bar religious groups from using school facilities for prayer, religious instruction, or the discussion of issues from a religious point of view. Instead, it bans religious services, the opinion said.

The 2nd Circuit saw a parallel with other activities that could be banned. Schools can't prevent people from holding meetings there to celebrate martial arts, cow breeding, or horseback riding, because that would be content discrimination, the opinion said. But they could ban martial arts matches, livestock shows and horseback riding.

"The basis for the lawful exclusion of such activities is not viewpoint discrimination, but rather the objective of avoiding either harm to persons or property, or liability, or a mess, which those activities may produce," the opinion said.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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