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No worship allowed

Appellate court bars renting public school space to church for religious 'worship services'

Issue: "2011 Books of the Year," July 2, 2011

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in June that a public school could bar a church from renting its space after hours, while other groups could rent the space if they weren't using it for worship. The court said the school wasn't discriminating against "religious points of view" but simply banning a "type of activity-religious worship services."

"The Establishment Clause is being misunderstood to mean that you cannot accommodate religious private speech as opposed to other private speech," said Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund, one of the lawyers for the Bronx, N.Y., church that sought to rent from a local middle school. "They have their dance recitals, Boy Scout meetings, union meetings, worship services. Nothing is transformed. The meeting doesn't work some architectural alchemy on the building."

Lorence said the decision could be overturned by the full circuit court (this ruling was from a three-member panel) or go to the Supreme Court.

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Also in the courts:

• The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a judge's ruling that banned prayer at a Texas public-school graduation ceremony-including a ban on the words prayer, invocation, benediction, join in prayer, bow your heads, and amen. Medina Valley High School valedictorian Angela Hildenbrand prayed her prayer and ended it with, "And it's in Jesus' name I pray, Amen."

• The Wisconsin Supreme Court, whose conservatives hold a one-justice majority, ruled in a 4-3 decision that the state's new law that curtails public unions' bargaining power could be put into effect, overturning a lower court judge's injunction against the law. The state Supreme Court said the lower judge had "usurped the legislative power which the Wisconsin Constitution grants exclusively to the legislature." The court also said that the legislature hadn't violated procedures in passing the law.

• The 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals heard arguments from 26 states in a lawsuit filed by Florida's attorney general challenging the 2010 healthcare law. Law experts believe it may be the most serious legal challenge to the controversial legislation.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.

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