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Latest Challenge to Ban on Worship in NY Schools
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On Friday, while presiding over a 16-year old dispute between religious groups and the city’s Board of Education, a federal judge asked whether New York City had the authority to ban religious worship after hours in public schools. The city continues to define what is meant by the term ‘worship’ but maintains it can’t be done. According to the representatives of the city, they did not want to define the term ‘worship’ because that would complicate the matter with questions of religious faith.

The obviously stumped judge asked “If there is no definition in the regulation of worship service or a house of worship, how will folks know if they are in or out?”

The dispute is over the city regulation that bars groups from holding services in public schools.


The lawyer, Jonathan Pines, representing the city said, “The definition is what the religious organization believes it to be … we are not theologies … If the religious organization knows enough to advertise what it does, then that’s enough.”

According to city rules, groups are allowed to use school buildings during non-school hours for religious instruction, but not for worship. Groups are allowed to chant, allowed to pray, allowed to tell bible stories, allowed to conduct hymns, but not allowed to ‘worship.’

An attorney for the religious groups opined that the situation stipulated by the city rules was very confusing. “A Waso robe offering by a Buddhist missionary organization, is that a religious ceremony or not? … A Passover Seder, I don’t know if that is considered a worship service or not.”

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The controversial regulation “prohibits school buildings from being used for religious worship services or as a house of worship.”

The first suit against the regulation was brought in the 1990s by The Bronx Household of Faith. In the latest round of litigation over the issue, a 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the regulation, and in December 2011 the Supreme Court refused to review the matter. On Feb 24, the group managed a fresh injunction on the regulation on the ground that it violated the groups’ First Amendment rights under the Free Exercise Clause.

The case is The Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No 01-8598.



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