Since 1995, a small evangelical church, Bronx Household of Faith, has been in court challenging the policy of the New York City public schools that prohibits religious groups from conducting worship services in the vacant buildings during nonschool hours, while allowing other community groups to meet for any purpose "pertaining to the welfare of the community." The case pits the First Amendment rights of religious groups against New York City's concerns that use of a school building for a worship service would violate the Establishment Clause. During the 2010-11 school year, community groups and individuals used New York City's 1,200 school buildings schools for approximately 120,000 events. No other major school district in the nation has a similar policy banning worship services.
Bronx Household of Faith won an injunction in federal district court in 2001, which ruled that the NYC policy violated the Freedom of Speech Clause. In 2011, the Second Circuit overturned the injunction on a 2-1 vote, ruling that NYC's concerns about possible Establishment Clause violations justified the policy. The Supreme Court denied cert on December 5, 2011.
Bronx Household returned to court, and asked for a new injunction based on the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause. J udge Loretta Preska issued a new injunction in February 2012. New York City appealed to the Second Circuit, which heard oral arguments on November 19, 2012. This case presents a classic clash between religious groups seeking to use public buildings on the same terms and conditions as other community groups, and New York City's view of the Establishment Clause, which it asserts requires it to exclude religious groups in order to show that the schools are neutral towards religion. Debating this case are Jordan Lorence, Senior Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, who has represented Bronx Household of Faith in this case since the beginning of the lawsuit, and Professor Alan E. Brownstein of UC-Davis Law School, a noted scholar on church-state legal issues.
- Prof. Alan E. Brownstein, University of California Davis School of Law
- Mr. Jordan Lorence, Senior Counsel & Senior Vice President, Office of Strategic Initiatives, Alliance Defence Foundation
- Moderator: Mr. Dean A. Reuter, Vice President & Director of Practice Groups, The Federalist Society