NEW YORK—New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has not yet lifted a ban on churches renting public schools in the city for Sunday worship services, after a court ruling April 3 upheld the Michael Bloomberg-era policy. Despite the ruling, churches meeting in public schools will be able to hold services on Easter Sunday thanks to a forthcoming legal maneuver.
Over the past several days some news sources, including The Wall Street Journal, reported that de Blasio had lifted the ban, but the mayor’s office confirmed to me on Monday that the ban remains in place for now. As a mayoral candidate, de Blasio promised to undo the policy and marched with pastors in support of churches having the right to rent public school space like any other organization. Since the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban on churches almost two weeks ago, de Blasio has reiterated his support for the churches but has not taken concrete action as of yet.
For the last two years churches have been able to rent public school space for worship services on Sunday because a federal district judge had blocked the policy. The city, then under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, appealed that decision to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and a panel of three judges upheld the policy in its April 3 decision.
The 2nd Circuit’s opinion would take effect this Friday, two weeks from the day the opinion was issued, meaning that churches would need to vacate public schools on a weekend when they are holding Good Friday and Easter Sunday services.
But the Bronx Household of Faith, the church at the center of the case, plans on Wednesday or Thursday to appeal the 2nd Circuit panel’s decision to the full court of the 2nd Circuit (an “en banc” review). That request for rehearing automatically puts the 2nd Circuit panel’s decision on hold until the full 2nd Circuit decides what to do with the case. The full 2nd Circuit could take a week or a month to act on the case, giving churches some breathing room.
“The churches are not going to be evicted on Good Friday or Easter,” said Jordan Lorence, a lawyer with the Alliance Defending Freedom who is representing Bronx Household of Faith in this case.
If the full 2nd Circuit turns down the request for rehearing, then the Bronx church will ask the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay while its lawyers work on a petition for certiorari, which would reexamine the decision at the high court, said Lorence.
Meanwhile, the city could still act any day now to change the policy and allow churches to meet in the schools going forward. But the Bronx church’s legal maneuver pushes back the uncertainty for now.
“We don’t know what kind of timetable [de Blasio] has in mind, so we’re going to move forward with the appeal,” said Lorence.