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New York churches keep meeting in schools

A 17-year battle over the right for New York City churches to rent and use public school buildings for weekend worship services appears to have come to a close – at least for the time being.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska issued a permanent injunction on June 29 against the New York Department of Education, calling its policy that prohibits church access to school property after hours a violation of the religious groups’ First Amendment rights.

Preska’s order could be the final verdict in a legal battle that began in 1995, when Bronx Household of Faith filed suit against New York’s Board of Education after the church had been evicted from its public school meeting place. Alliance Defending Freedom will continue to represent the church if the city appeals to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“ADF will continue to defend this constitutionally protected right if the city chooses to continue using taxpayer money to evict the very groups that are selflessly helping the city’s communities, including the public schools themselves,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence.

The rent churches pay to use otherwise unoccupied public school buildings on weekends is considerably lower than commercial rental rates. This savings enables churches to meet in underserved areas of the city and direct much of their resources into community service projects such as soup kitchens for the homeless and programs designed to prevent gang violence.

The Board of Education had contended that religious services held in public school buildings represented a threat to the minds of “impressionable youth.”

Despite the ruling, Assemblies of God Pastor Jeremy Sweeten says the church he leads has abandoned efforts to go back into the public schools because the uncertainty makes it too risky. Sweeten is pastor of Forest Hills Community Church, which had met in a New York City public school.

“We remain in the neighborhood, renting a Lutheran church and holding our services on Sunday evening,” Sweeten said. But Sweeten, who is an AG U.S. Missions pastor to Jewish people, says meeting in a church building isn’t conducive to attracting residents of the highly Jewish neighborhood.

“But in all of this, God remains faithful,” Sweeten says. “We continue to be a 40-strong congregation committed to evangelizing and loving our community for Jesus. The message of the New Testament is go and tell, not simply come and see.”

Author: Pentecostal Evangel

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