The Supreme Court recently refused to hear a case with important religious freedom implications — Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education, City of New York. ADF asked the Supreme Court to reverse the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s incredible holding that the New York City Board of Education can allow schools to be rented for meetings encouraging everything from atheism to zodiac watching, but deny use for a worship service. Briefly stated, the court held that school officials can prohibit churches from renting school facilities to hold worship services, as long as they allow churches in for other types of events.
The court’s ruling has serious legal implications for religious freedom. We at ADF were hopeful the Supreme Court would review this case and resolve the very difficult position in which the Second Circuit has placed churches (and school officials) in the states of New York, Connecticut, and Vermont. Now, if a church needs to rent the school auditorium for a Christmas play, it must decide whether to describe the event as a worship service because it includes songs and a prayer, or merely a celebration of a national holiday from a Christian point of view. Is it dishonest to not refer to it as a worship service? And God help the school principals charged with reviewing such applications. How are they to determine if a Christmas play violates a school’s policy banning worship? It certainly would have been nice to get some direction from the Supreme Court on these questions. Hopefully the Court will see fit to take another similar case soon.
The more fundamental question, however, is what does the Bronx Household of Faith case tell us about the state of religious freedom in America? At minimum, we now know that some government officials and federal judges believe religious worship gets less constitutional protection than virtually any other type of expression – including political speeches, scientific lectures, global warming conferences, homosexual “rights” rallies, and even anti-religious teaching. That is a fundamental shift in thinking from just 67 years ago when Franklin Delano Roosevelt called the nation to prayer on D-Day and invoked the favor of the Almighty on our efforts to combat the Axis Powers. And it completely contradicts the philosophy of Founding Fathers like Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who said, “The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”
The court’s devaluing religious worship as compared to other types of expression has huge implications for religious liberty and the very core of how we govern ourselves in this country. As indicated by Mr. Rush, without religious freedom there is no other liberty.
Rest assured that we at ADF are not going to stand idly by and accept this serious attack on the religious freedom of churches. We have been advising the many churches affected by this ruling in New York City about how to attempt to remedy the problem in the state legislature. And we are working on several other legal strategies to make sure this New York case has a very limited effect. Please continue to pray for the many attorneys working on the matter, as well as the churches who have been displaced as a result of the ruling.
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