Federal judge rules NYC cannot prohibit worship services in public schools

Caroline May | Reporter

A federal judge has ruled that churches do have the right to conduct worship services in New York City public school buildings.

District Judge Loretta Preska issued a permanent injunction against the New York City Department of Education Friday, ruling that the city could not prohibit worship in public school buildings as it represented a violation of the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause.

Preska’s decision is the latest in a dispute between the city and church leaders dating back to 1995, when the city initially attempted to evict groups renting public school space for worship, arguing that such use represented a potential violation of the separation of church and state.

“There is no reason to exclude worship services from these empty school buildings, especially when the school allows all other community groups to meet,” Alliance Defense Fund senior counsel Jordan Lorence, an attorney representing the churches, explained in a statement.

WNYC News reports that city attorneys plan to appeal the the decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Despite the planned appeal, church leaders such as Reverend William Devlin, a Manhattan pastor who staged a hunger strike to protest the ban earlier this year, cheered the decision.

“Today is a day of victory for religious freedom and religious liberty in the city of New York,” Devlin said in a statement. “Houses of worship of all faiths can now breathe a sigh of relief due to today’s ruling by Federal Judge Loretta Preska granting a permanent injunction against the NYC Department of Education’s draconian, repressive, discriminatory policy of banning only houses of worship from renting space in public school buildings.”

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