Court rejects N.Y. school-worship case

Dec. 5, 2011 at 10:58 AM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court Monday refused to review the case of a New York church banned from conducting after-hours religious worship on public school property.

At issue in the case was whether government can ban worship services from school property to enforce the constitutional separation of church and state or whether the First Amendment's guarantee protects religious worship like any other type of expression.

The refusal to review sets no precedent, and the issue could come up in another case and be accepted by the high court.

In 1994, the Bronx Household of Faith church applied to use space in the Anne Cross Mersereau Middle School in the Bronx for its Sunday morning worship service.

But New York state law said a local public school district may permit its facilities to be used outside of school hours for such purposes as "social, civic and recreational meetings and entertainments, and other uses pertaining to the welfare of the community," as long as those uses are "non-exclusive and ... open to the general public."

Using that law, New York City's Department of Education, as it was then called, developed a written policy governing the use of school facilities during after-school hours as part of its "Standard Operating Procedures Manual."

The policy, or SOP, permitted outside groups to use school premises after-hours in the ways described by state law, but specifically banned the use of school property for "religious services or instruction." Later, the SOP was amended to ban use of school property for "religious worship services, or otherwise using a school as a house of worship."

Bronx Household went to court and asked for an injunction against the SOP, but a federal judge ruled summarily for the school district and a U.S. appeals court affirmed. The church then asked the U.S. Supreme Court for review, which was denied Monday.

The court said Justice Elena Kagan, who was the Obama administration's top courtroom lawyer when the case began, took no part in consideration of the case

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