The Bronx Household of Faith case returns to the U.S. District Court in lower Manhattan for a hearing on Friday morning, June 1 at 10:30 am in Courtroom 12A of Chief Judge Loretta Preska. The federal courthouse is located at 500 Pearl Street in lower Manhattan, near City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Bronx Household of Faith has filed a motion asking the District Court to grant a permanent injunction against the New York City Department of Education’s policy barring religious groups from conducting worship services in the public schools during nonschool hours. New York City is asking the Court to uphold the policy.
Last February, Judge Preska issued a preliminary injunction against the policy, so churches and other religious groups are now meeting in NYC public schools on the same terms as other community groups. The District Court should issue a ruling by mid-June, according to the order last February 29 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. If the District Court grants the motion for a permanent injunction, New York City will immediately appeal to the Second Circuit. That appeals court has stated that it will rule on the permanent injunction by the time school starts in the fall. Whichever side loses at the Second Circuit will likely appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
So what does this all mean? It means that churches are currently meeting in NYC public schools, and will likely continue to meet there until at least the end of the summer. The big wild card is what will the Second Circuit do with this case. If it rules against the churches like it did one year ago when it upheld the policy, then we would likely appeal quickly to the U.S. Supreme Court. That court declined to hear our appeal on our free speech claim last December. Would it view our free exercise of religion claim differently? We may get an opportunity to see. Of course, if the Second Circuit agrees that the policy violates the Free Exercise Clause, then the churches would remain meeting in the schools. This case has several twists and turns yet to come, so stay tuned, and continue to pray for God’s mercy on the churches.
But the next step in the proceedings is the court hearing in Manhattan Friday morning at 10:30 a.m. The court hearing is open to the public, so anyone may attend. And we can rejoice that at least for now, religious liberty prevails in New York City.