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Federal Appeals Court Reverses 2012 Decision Allowing Bronx Church To Hold Religious Services At Public School

Bronx Household Of Faith Building Project (credit: BHOF.org)

Bronx Household Of Faith Building Project (credit: BHOF.org)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A federal appeals court in New York has reversed a 2012 decision allowing a small church to hold religious services at a public school.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that a city ban on religious services in schools is constitutional.

It’s the latest development in a two-decade legal battle involving the Bronx Household of Faith.

The decision struck down a lower court ruling that blocked the city from enforcing the ban.

The lower court found that the ban violated First Amendment protections regarding free exercise of faith.

A dispute broke out among city officials after the February 2012 ruling. City Councilman Fernando Cabrera (D-14th) said no churches had permission from the Board of Education to use the space, and none would be allowed to do so.

At the time, then Public Advocate Bill De Blasio had a message for Mayor Michael Bloomberg: “I hope that neither he nor anyone at the Department of Education thinks they can ignore this court order, because it’s crystal clear.”

The dispute has been bouncing around the courts for nearly two decades, with the 2nd Circuit considering issues surrounding it on five separate occasions.

The appeals court first considered the case 15 years ago, several years after the evangelical Christian church sued for the right to hold Sunday services in a public school.

For the last decade, Bronx Household has been conducting its services at a city school. City attorney Jane Gordon said in 2012 that nearly 100 permits last year had been requested for use of schools for religious services.

In 2011, a federal appeals panel ruled that letting schools be converted into churches on Sunday would violate the Constitution’s establishment clause, which bars Congress from making a law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of one.

The city rule does not exclude prayer, religious instruction, expression of devotion to God and the singing of hymns, whether done by a person or a group.

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