Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – through its Institute for Public Affairs – joined with other religious organizations in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a ruling by the New York-based U.S. Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit) upholding a New York City Board of Education policy that bars religious groups from using public school facilities for religious services during non-school hours.
A “friend of the court” brief was filed in support of a petition for a writ of certiorari (asking the Court to hear this case); signing on to the brief were the Christian Legal Society (who authored the brief), National Association of Evangelicals, Presbyterian Church, Baptist Joint Committee and the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
The case arises out of request by The Full Gospel Tabernacle, an evangelical Christian church, to rent a public school facility for its weekly religious services; the request was refused by the board of the local school district.
The local school board refused this request on the basis of a New York City Board of Education policy governing the use of school facilities by outside groups. That policy provides, in general, that school facilities may be used by community youth, adult and group activities as well as for other purposes that relate to educational, communal and social activities.
Relevant to this case, the policy specifically states: No outside organization or group may be allowed to conduct religious services or religious instruction on school premises after school. However, the use of school premises by outside organizations.after school for the purposes of discussing religious material or material which contains a religious viewpoint.is permissible.
Full Gospel Tabernacle, as well as the Orthodox Union and the other religious groups supporting its efforts, contend that this policy violates religious citizens’ rights of free speech, free exercise of religion, equal protection and that to permit the use of public school facilities – on the basis of religion neutral criteria – for religious services is not a violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.
This position, the amicus brief contends, is supported by Supreme Court precedents. Since 1981, the Court has held in several cases that religious speech may not be infringed upon in the name of the Establishment Clause for to do so is to violate the free speech rights of religious citizens.
Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, stated that he is “hopeful that the Supreme Court will agree to hear this case and then send a clear message that the Constitution does not require religion to be discriminated against in, but protects and nourishes religious freedom in the United States.”