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Split in School Worship Case

Posted Jul 5, 2007 9:43 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A fractured ruling by a federal appeals court permits an evangelical Christian church to hold Sunday worship services in a school building, at least temporarily.

Two judges differed on whether the ban violated the church’s First Amendment rights, and a third said the case is not yet ripe for review. The suit could provide the U.S. Supreme Court with its next big establishment clause case, reports the New York Sun.

New York’s school board bans worship services at public schools, but preliminary and permanent injunctions had barred enforcement of differing versions of the policy pending resolution of a lawsuit filed by the Bronx Household of Faith. A three-judge panel of the New York City-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday left in place one of the injunctions.

“Our disparate views of this case leave us without a rationale to which a majority of the court agrees,” the per curiam opinion said.

Judge Guido Calabresi said the content-based restriction was permissible since it barred all worship services. Judge John Walker Jr. said the ban violated the church’s First Amendment rights. Judge Pierre Leval said the case is not yet ripe for review because the school board had not banned worship services based on the new regulation.

The case will be ripe for review once the school board formally adopts the new regulation and then denies the church’s new application to hold church services, the opinion said. The Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education [PDF], No. 06-0725-cv.

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