ORTHODOX UNION DISAPPOINTED IN COURT RULING ON EQUAL ACCESS TO PUBLIC SCHOOLS FOR “CHURCH” GROUPS;
WILL SUPPORT SUPREME COURT REVIEW
Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – through its Institute for Public Affairs – expressed its disappointment with 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.
Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, stated: “While disappointed in this most recent ruling, we are 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.”
The case arose after a request by The Bronx Household of Faith, an evangelical Christian church, to use a gymnasium at Middle School 206B in the Bronx for its weekly religious services was refused by the board of the local school district. The local school board refused B.H.F.’s 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.
Since 1981, the US Supreme Court has held in several cases that religious speech may not be infringed upon in the name of the Establishment Clause and doing so violates the free speech rights of religious citizens. The Orthodox Union joined with other religious groups in challenging this New York City policy over the many years of this litigation and believes this policy violates religious citizens’ rights of free speech, free exercise of religion, equal protection and that permitting the use of public school facilities – on the basis of religion neutral criteria – for religious services would not violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.