In December of last year, the church lost what was supposed to be the final round of its long battle to force the city to permit them to worship in public schools when the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. The decision set the stage for not only the Bronx Household's eviction but that of the other dozens of churches that had set up shop in New York's public schools.
The church, claiming their First Amendment right to worship in a government insitution responded to the loss:
co-pastor Jack Roberts said, "We’re extremely disappointed and believe that the Supreme Court has decided wrongly in this case, because it’s a constitutional issue that needs addressing. Allowing the NYC Department of Education to ban religious worship services doesn’t answer the question of what is the definition of ‘worship service.’ I see it as having a chilling effect on religious freedom in our country."
That's a specious and disingenuous argument if ever there was one. What are you doing there on Sunday Pastor Roberts, if not holding a worship service?
The church's lawyers (obviously the pre-eminent Constitutional scholars in the room) find it 'sad' that 'government officials' (a.k.a. judges) are incapable of properly interpreting the Constitution (i.e. according to their own idea of what it says).
“It’s very sad when government officials misinterpret the Constitution and attempt to kick such groups out,” Mr. Lorence said. “That is clearly not at all what the authors of the Constitution intended.”
Not content with the ruling of the SCOTUS, the church tried a different legal tactic. On this basis Judge Loretta Preska granted a temporary injunction allowing two more weeks of worship, citing the 'irreparable harm" eviction would cause, and the belief they would win the case on the new claims. Originally the injuction pertained to all 60 churches meeting in public schools but was clarified the next day to mean only Bronx Household.
A Manhattan Federal Court judge Friday reversed a previous eviction of religious groups from city schools where they had long rented space for worship services.
But the long-running legal battle came to Preska’s court after Bronx Household’s lawyers raised new First Amendment arguments. They argued that the congregation, which had been worshipping in Public School 15 in University Heights, had its right to religious freedom violated; previously they had argued that free speech rights were being denied.
And when activist judges are active on the 'wrong' side, the next step of course is to have the law changed to suit your purposes. Complicating the issue is a bill that would force the city to change its policy. That measure is pending in the state Legislature. Speaker Sheldon Silver was against
such a bill saying it could allow anyone including the Ku Klux Klan to meet in New York's public schools, then mysteriously reversed his position overnight.
A legislative effortto rewrite the state education law that permits the city to ban worship services has already begun. On Thursday, a City Council member, Fernando Cabrera, is expected to announce on the steps of City Hall a resolution in support of a forthcoming State Assembly bill to change the law.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has argued that allowing worship in schools threatens religious freedom by inviting discrimination. The NYCLU maintains that allowing churches to hold worship services in public schools violates the First Amendment’s
prohibition on government endorsement of religion in numerous ways.
The Church makes the argument that they deserve equal access to schools, just like the Boy Scouts or any other group. And Pastor Roberts admits the paranoid belief that the city is waging a war on religion
Roberts said he believes the larger issue being fought was an effort "to minimize the impact of the Christian message in our local communities."
What is missing from this long and excruciating legal battle, is any justification or explanation for why the Church must meet inside a public school. Rather they have argued why they shouldn't be forbidden from doing so. Why is it so important to meet inside a public school that they would wage this battle for over 16 years, tieing up the courts, costing taxpayers money and surely incurring legal costs even if the Alliance Defense Fund works pro-bono. Why not just give up and find somewhere less controversial to worship? The most compelling argument they have offered is one of cost:
The Bronx Household of Faith, an evangelical congregation, first sought to use a school as its weekend meeting place in 1994. It has since battled up and down the judicial ladders on behalf of the five dozen churches that rent school space.
Some are like the Household of Faith, which cannot afford a permanent home elsewhere.
They have made the argument that they are a good neighbor to the community but they could do this from a church just as well if not better:
Although New York City won in court, it must now defend the policy in the court of public opinion. Churches like Bronx Household of Faith benefit the local communities by helping their neighbors, helping people get off drugs, stop stealing, stay married and raise their children. The policy may change by a vote of state lawmakers.
So it is up to the taxpayers of New York to subsidize the Bronx Household of Faith and other churches who can't afford market rents. There can be no reason other than an agenda to redefine the First Amendment and intrusively force religion into the pubic square, as candidate Rick Santorum blatantly asserted recently . It is a decades-long campaing chipping away at actual religious freedom, i.e. the freedom from religion.
Presumably if they can afford to rent school space, but not anything else, the city is providing them space at below market rates. The solution seems obvious - charge them full market rate rent and get them out of your hair.