The failure of the Supreme Court to rule on the Bronx Household of Faith decision and letting stand a lower court ruling against churches is troubling.
The Supreme Court has established that denying groups access because they engage in religious speech violates the First Amendment Free Speech clause. Thus the New York City Department of Education revised its rule to ban "worship services."
The problem that the Supreme Court should have pounced on is that "worship services" is not a neutral term. Could an LDS Church rent space to hold relief society meeting? What about seminary? While most would see sacrament as a worship service, what of these other events?
This rule requires the state to make a determination about what is and what is not a worship service. This is a determination that entangles the school in religious matters. There is no standard of what a worship service is. There is also no clear ban on any content of a worship service. If an LDS ward rented space to hold choir practice at a school would that be permissible? The ruling is built on a definition of worship service.
The schools could unilaterally exclude all outside groups. They should not be able to make religious content exclusions. Excluding worship services is a content exclusion issue. Hopefully the attempts to change New York law will result in its negative impact being lessened.
John Pack Lambert
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