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Churches In Public Schools: Bronx Household Of Faith Wins Case Against P.S. 15, Churches May Hold Worship Events in New York Schools

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Loretta Preska
Loretta Preska

New York City public schools may no longer bar churches from conducting service events on school premises, a federal judge ruled Friday.

The ruling, issued by judge Loretta Preska in Manhattan, settles a 12 year lawsuit which began after the Bronx Household of Faith, an evangelical church, sued the city so that it could continue to hold Sunday morning worship services in P.S. 15, the Associated Press reports.

The city is "very disappointed," according to a statement issued by a city lawyer. The lawyer has said the city plans to appeal the case.

Judge Preska gave a similiar ruling in February of this year, issuing an injunction to the city's public schools against enforcing their no-worship policy.

City lawyers contended then that the First Amendment's Establishment Clause barred the Bronx Household of Faith from holding religious services on public school property, Bloomberg News reports.

The church argued that it was being unfairly targeted by the school, which continued to allow other groups to hold after-school and weekend events on school grounds.

Judge Preska agreed with the church, ruling that "in this court's view, losing one's right to exercise freely and fully his or her religious beliefs is a greater threat to our democratic society than a misperceived violation of the Establishment Clause."

New York is not the only state with simmering tensions over the relationship between religion and school.

In Louisiana, lawmakers passed a bill last month allowing students at failing public schools to use government paid vouchers to enroll at alternate schools -- including those run by churches. The voucher initiative, called the Minimum Foundations Program, provoked criticism from Americans United for a Separation of Church and State after it was discovered that one of the church-run schools funded by the program educated its kids with Biblically-themed DVDs.

Sectarian tensions also boiled after the Islamic School of Greater New Orleans applied under the bill for 38 state-funded vouchers.

Many lawmakers did not want state funds to go to an Islamic school, even though the voucher program was slotted to fund numerous Christian schools.

"It'll be the Church of Scientology next year," Democratic state Rep. Sam Jones told AP.

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