Wednesday, July 4, 2012
City violated religious groups' 1st Amendment rights
From the NY Times:
A federal judge ruled on Friday that religious groups cannot be prohibited from using public schools to hold services, rejecting the argument that such use violates the Constitution’s requirement to keep church and state strictly separate.
The ruling, by Judge Loretta A. Preska of United States District Court in Manhattan, was a major setback for New York City, which has fought for nearly two decades to expel religious groups from the schools.
Religious groups that use the schools hailed the decision, even though the city is likely to appeal.
Jordan W. Lorence, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, a group representing the churches, said, “The court’s order allows churches and other religious groups to meet for worship services in empty school buildings on weekends on the same terms as other groups.”
In her ruling, Judge Preska found that barring religious groups did not violate the free-speech clause of the First Amendment. Rather, the city’s regulations were problematic because they violated the establishment clause of that amendment, which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Before the ruling on Friday, the city required that churches wanting to use a public school list all the activities that were going to take place before they were granted a permit. If the city found that those activities crossed a line — from discussion to worship — the permit could be denied and the group expelled.