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U.S. Appeals Court: Schools Can Ban Worship

Ruling says New York ban on church services doesn't discriminate against expression. But legal scholars say the decision is unlikely to stand.

The Bronx Household of Faith, a New York City Conservative Congregational church, is between buildings. After meeting in a coffee shop, city apartments, and most recently the auditorium of the Bronx's P.S. 15, a K-8 public school, the church is constructing its first permanent meeting space. But that space has yet to be completed. For now, the congregation, which has been a "church without walls" since the 1970s according to its website, is at the center of a debate over whether churches have a constitutional right to meet in public schools.

In a June 2 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled 2-1 that the New York City Department of Education can bar churches from renting school facilities for worship services. The decision overturned a 2002 lower court ruling that allowed the congregation, in addition to nearly 60 other churches, to conduct worship services in school buildings.

Second Circuit Judge Pierre N. Leval cited the First Amendment's prohibition on establishing ...

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