By Bob Smietana
UPDATE: See the most recent news in our latest story. The ban is still technically in place, but the churches will not be evicted for now and both city and school officials are working to change the policy.
Despite recent court losses, churches will be allowed to hold worship services in New York City public schools.
According to the Wall Street Journal, NYC mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week the lifting of the ban.
“I believe that a faith-based organization has a right like anyone else … to use that space,” de Blasio told the WSJ.
For more than two decades, the city has been caught in a legal battle with the Bronx Household of Faith, a small congregation that has met in a public school since 2002.
City officials claim allowing a church to worship in a school is unconstitutional. They say it gives the impression the school is endorsing a particular faith.
Church leaders say the city’s ban violates their religious freedom.
In early April, a New York circuit court sided with the city. The judges say the city had banned worship, not religious practice.
About 30 churches faced eviction before de Blasio announced the ban had been dropped.
Among them is Grace Fellowship Church in Queens. Jon Storck, the church’s pastor, told the WSJ he was relieved that his congregation won’t have to move.
“I feel like now we can focus our attention on being a good neighbor,” he said.
Donna Lieberman, the director of New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), which has long supported the ban, told the WSJ that she was disappointed with the mayor’s decision.
Lieberman said her group would work with the city on putting disclaimers on church signs, to make it clear the schools don’t endorse the congregation.
According to Lifeway Research, the new policy is supported by the majority of Americans. A 2012 study found 65 percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement “public schools should rent to churches and other community groups.”
By Bob Smietana