A great victory today in Federal Court in New York. Alliance Defense Fund attorney Jordan Lorence won a temporary restraining order allowing churches and other houses of worship to continue meeting in NYC schools for two more weeks, with hope that a permanent order will allow them to continue to meet going forward. Here is a press release from just minutes ago from NYC Councilman Fernando Cabrera:
PRESS CONFERENCE re: DISTRICT COURT TEMP. RESTRAINING ORDER ALLOWING HOUSES OF WORSHIP TO MEET IN SCHOOLS
WHO: Council Member Fernando Cabrera, Colleagues from NYS Senate & Assembly, City Wide Elected Officials, City Religious Leaders, ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence
WHAT: Press Conference: Federal District Court orders temporary restraining order against the New York City’s Department of Education, houses of worship can continue to meet in schools. Calling State Legislature to action.
WHEN: Friday, Feb. 17, 2012 @ 10:00AM
WHERE: City Hall Steps, New York, NY 10007
NEW YORK — Press conference will be held tomorrow at the Steps of City Hall regarding court order won today by the Bronx Household of Faith and Jordan Lorence and the Bronx Household of Faith. This court order allows churches to continue meeting for worship services in New York City public schools for the time being.
Text from earlier release:
“Now that the courts have spoken up on the side of fairness,” said Council Member Fernando Cabrera. “I call on the New York State Legislature and Speaker Sheldon Silver to move forward with bills that would rapidly solve this issue.” He continued, “This court order is a fantastic victory and will calm the 60 plus congregations that were frantically searching for space. I commend the US District Court for ruling justly.”
The temporary restraining order is in effect for 10 days while the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York more fully considers constitutional arguments about the city’s unique-in-the-nation prohibition on worship services in vacant public school buildings on weekends.
“Churches help communities; evicting churches hurts communities. Empty buildings offer nothing to communities that need hope,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence, who argued before the court on Tuesday. “The court’s order is a message of hope for fundamental freedoms in New York City because it means that, for the time being, the city must welcome churches as it does other groups. ADF will continue to fight this battle relentlessly until the city no longer unconstitutionally prohibits activity for purely religious reasons.”
ADF sought the order on Feb. 3 to stop the evictions based on violations of the First Amendment that had not been ruled on previously in the case, Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York. According to the court, it issued the order because “the Plaintiffs have demonstrated irreparable harm and a likelihood of success on the merits of their Free Exercise and Establishment Clause claims….”
Many New York City churchgoers have been protesting the city’s plans to evict them ever since the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case on free speech grounds on Dec. 5 of last year. A bill that would compel the city’s Department of Education to allow the worship services passed the state senate this month and is awaiting action by the state assembly.
“This order from the court in no way should stop efforts by the New York Legislature to overturn this policy,” Lorence explained. “The courts have consistently ruled that the Constitution does not require New York City to ban religious worship services, so the city or the state legislature is free to repeal the policy.”