After 10 years of legal battles, a federal court ensured a Bronx church has the right to rent space at a public school for its Sunday worship meetings.

The congregation’s attorney, Jordan Lorence, hailed the decision as “the biggest victory for equal access cases in two decades.”

Judge Loretta Preska of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a permanent injunction yesterday barring the Board of Education of the City of New York from refusing to rent space to the Bronx Household of Faith.

As WorldNetDaily reported in 2002, the district objected on grounds that worship services on school property violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Lorence, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, said people of faith “ought to be able to rent and use public school facilities just like everyone else.”

“It’s a simple, common sense principle that took over a decade and multiple court rulings for the New York City school board to understand,” he said.

In her opinion [pdf file], Preska said the board’s position that its policy against the church “does not amount to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination is astonishing in light of the Supreme Court’s clear holding in Good News Club.”

In the 2001 case Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the Supreme Court declared a school’s denial of access to an after-hours Bible club unconstitutional.

Prior to that ruling, Preska had decided in favor of the district, but ADF brought the case back to her court, using the Supreme Court decision as precedent.

“Almost everyone in America but the public school system of New York City understands that the government doesn’t endorse everything it allows,” Lorence said.

He called it “the biggest victory in two decades for churches that simply want the same access to public facilities that other organizations have.”

Yesterday’s ruling made permanent Preska’s temporary injunction in June 2002. The school board appealed that decision to the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City, but the request was denied in 2003, allowing the church to continue meeting at the school.

The church, founded during the “Jesus movement” in 1971, sought a larger meeting space in 1995 when it grew to about 90 members and could no longer fit in the substance-abuse rehabilitation facility it had used since its inception.

With no similar community facilities in the neighborhood, the congregation began to inquire about neighborhood public schools.

Related stories:

Church wins right to meet in public school

Bronx church presses 1st Amendment rights

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