Friday, June 15, 2012

Worship Services Back in NY City Public Schools

In 2011, a U.S. Appeals Court said N.Y. City could constitutionally eject the Bronx Household of Faith from P.S. 15 in the Bronx.
In February 2012, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska let it back in.
The church has taken its case up and down the court system so many times that Judge Preska called the 2011 Appeals Court decision Bronx III and her February ruling Bronx IV.
In Bronx III, the church argued that the U.S. Constitution’s free speech guarantee required N.Y. City school to host worship services on the same basis as other expressions of opinion.
The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It characterized a worship service as a unique activity, different from other expressions of opinion.
Judge Pierre Leval wrote,“The prohibition against using school facilities for the conduct of religious services bars a type of activity. It does not discriminate against any point of view.”
In Bronx IV, the church made new claims. It said N.Y. City’s ban violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of free religious exercise and its injunction against government establishment of religion.
Judge Preska thought the church made good points. She let Bronx Household and other churches continue to worship in public schools, at least until she handed down a decision. N.Y. City appealed, and the Appeals Court let the churches hold worship services in the schools until Preska rules, no later than June.
The Second Circuit will decide the city’s appeal before schools reopen in the fall.
Free Exercise of Religion
In Bronx IV, the church reasons as follows.
The city burdens the church’s constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion by excluding worship services from its schools.
In Bronx III, the Appeals Court approved the exclusion because the city reasonably thought worship services in public schools unconstitutionally established religion.
The church now argues that the city’s reasonable opinion dies not justify the burden on the church’s free exercise of religion.
N.Y. City could justify the burden only if the U.S. Supreme Court had specifically banned the worship services as unconstitutional establishment of religion. The High Court has not ruled on the issue.
In other words, if the U.S. Supreme Court has not forbidden public schools to host worship services, then the U.S. Constitution requires them to do it.
Establishment of Religion
In Bronx III, the church said approval of N.Y. City’s policy would require the court to define the phrase worship service.
Judge Guido Calabresi disagreed. He wrote, “Once an applicant says that what it wishes to do is worship, no inquiry into whether the…activities actually constitute worship is required.”
Following the Appeals Court’s Bronx III decision in N.Y. City’s favor, the city asked those seeking meeting space in public schools whether they would hold worship services.
Pastor Brad Herzog of Reformation Presbyterian Church refused to answer. He said he did not know how the board defined worship services.
Lorenzo Arnoldo of the city’s Education Department took the bait and defined Herzog’s list of Sunday activities—Bible study, prayer, singing, and fellowship—as worship. Arnoldo refused the church a permit.
In Bronx IV, Bronx Household’s lawyers say N.Y. City unconstitutionally established religion when Arnoldo defined Herzog’s activity list as worship.
The case is Bronx Household of Faith v. N.Y. City (IV).
Valuable Precedent
In May, in the case of Galloway and Stephens v. Town of Greece, the same Judge Calabresi who upheld N.Y. City’s policy in Bronx III struck down the Greece Town Board’s opening prayers. His reasoning will provide a valuable precedent when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decides Bronx IV. Read all about it in the article headed Town of Greece Case May Aid NY City Schools.
N.Y. State Bill to Keep Churches in Schools
In response to Bronx III, the N.Y. State Senate passed a bill requiring N.Y. City schools to host religious worship services. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver blocked its passage in the Assembly, at least temporarily. Judge Preska’s restoration of the churches to the public schools has suspended action on the legislation. Read all about the bill in the article headed Bill to Make NY City Schools Host Worship Service.

Town of Greece Case May Aid NY City Schools

In May 2012, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals stopped the Greece Town Board’s official prayers, because they affiliated the town with Christianity.
The suit, Galloway and Stephens v. Town of Greece, had nothing to do with public schools, but the court’s reasoning may help to get worship services out of N.Y. City public schools.
Writing for a unanimous panel, Judge Guido Calabresi said a “practice that, however well-intentioned, conveys to a reasonable objective observer under the totality of the circumstances an official affiliation with a particular religion violates a clear command of the Establishment Clause.” 
Courts have used many terms to describe what government must not do with respect to religion. It must not promote, advance, endorse, sponsor, entangle, or prefer religion. Judge Calabresi relied on two U.S. Supreme Court precedents against government affiliation with religion.
A N.Y. City church, the Bronx Household of Faith, has held Sunday worship services for twelve years in N.Y. City’s P.S. 15.
Reasonable, objective observers might well think the school affiliated with a particular religion.
N.Y. City has tried repeatedly to eject Bronx Household and other churches from its public schools. In response, Bronx Household has sued the city, claiming a U.S. Constitutional right to worship in public schools.
In 2011, a Second Circuit panel ruled in favor of N.Y. City. The opinions didn’t mention affiliation.
In a comment on the decision, Senior Counsel Jane Gordon of the N.Y. City Law Department referred to the affiliation problem.
She said the Education Department “was quite properly concerned about having any school in this diverse city identified with one particular religious belief or practice.”
The same Judge Calabresi who stopped government affiliation with religion in the Town of Greece wrote and voted in favor of N.Y. City in the 2011 Bronx Household decision.
In January 2012, the Bronx Household of Faith returned to U.S. District Court with additional U.S. constitutional claims. Obliging Judge Loretta Preska let the churches stay in the schools, at least until she decides the case.
All parties expect the District Court losers to appeal to the Second Circuit. The Appeals panel can then call upon the Greece Town Board precedent against government affiliation with religion.
Judge Calabresi clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, a heroic defender of church-state separation. Justice Black wrote the U.S. Supreme Court decision against N.Y. State’s classroom prayer, Engel v. Vitale, 50 years ago.

Bill to Make NY City Schools Host Worship Service

The N.Y. State Senate has passed a bill requiring N.Y. City public schools to host worship services.
The bill passed in response to a 2011 U.S. Appeals Court decision upholding a N.Y. City policy against worship services in public school buildings.
The plaintiff church, the Bronx Household of Faith, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the High Court refused to take the case.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver blocked the Senate bill in the Assembly, at least temporarily.
In January 2012, Bronx Household returned to U.S. District Court with additional claims, and District Judge Loretta Preska let congregations continue to worship in public schools while she considered the claims.
Action on the proposed legislation has paused during the renewed litigation, so we have time to express our opposition to the Assembly bill, A8800.
If you feel inclined to send a ready-made letter, try this.
Honorable John Doe
N.Y. State Assembly
Albany, New York 12248
Dear Mr. Doe,
Please oppose bill #A8800, which would REQUIRE N.Y. City public schools to house religious worship services.
The N.Y. City Education Department has this policy: “No permit shall be granted for the purpose of holding religious worship services or otherwise using a school as a house of worship.”
Jane Gordon, senior counsel of the N.Y. City law Department, explained that the city “was quite properly concerned about having any school in this diverse city identified with one particular religious belief or practice.”
The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the policy.
A8800 would overturn that reasonable policy. Please oppose bill #A8800. Thank you.
Sincerely yours,
Your Name
To Identify Your N.Y. State Assembly Member
Take the following steps to learn the name of your N.Y. State Assembly Member.
1. Google N.Y. State Assembly.
2. Click Assembly Members.
3. Click Member Search.
4. A dialogue box will appear. Fill it in.
5. Click Submit.
6. Your Assembly Member’s name will appear, with a link to his website. If you want to send your message by email from the website, click on the link.
7. When the website appears, look for the word Contact. Click on it.
8. Your Assembly Member’s email address will appear. Click on it. His email form will appear.
Willing to Write Other Officials?
Well-informed persons recommend letters to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
You can write to Cuomo at NYS Capitol Building, Albany, N.Y. 12224. If you prefer to send him an email, google his name, and a link to his website will appear. Enter the website, click on Contact, and his email form will appear.

Prayer Comes Off Wall

“The ACLU is going to win solely because of the fiscal condition of Cranston,” said school board chairman Andrea Ianuzzi, according to Reuters.
Student Jessica Ahlquist, backed by the ACLU, sued to get rid of a prayer posted on the auditorium wall of her high school in Cranston, Rhode Island.
In January, U.S. District Court Judge Roland Lagueux told school officials to remove the prayer.
In February, the Cranston School Committee decided not to appeal.
Ahlquist’s attorneys have asked Cranston for $173,000 in legal fees, reported the Associated Press.
Cranston’s lawyer, Joseph Cavanaugh Jr., said a defense all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court would cost an additional $500,000 in legal fees.
Since the loser pays the fees, Cavanaugh’s prediction implicitly acknowledged that Cranston would lose on appeal.
The case was Ahlquist v. Cranston.

Would-Be Counselor Won't Counsel Gays

“Surely,…the ban on discrimination against clients based on their religion…does not require a Muslim counselor to tell a Jewish client that his religious beliefs are correct,” wrote Judge Jeffrey Sutton in January for the unanimous U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Counseling student Julea Ward had refused on religious grounds to counsel patients about same-sex relationships. When her teachers at Eastern Michigan University could not change her mind, they expelled her. She sued the university, claiming religious discrimination.
The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sympathized with her stand. It sent the case back to U.S. District Court to discover whether her teachers had in fact acted from religious bias.
Commenting on the decision, N.Y. Times columnist Mark Oppenheimer pointed to “the role of the counselor.…Is it to affirm the client’s beliefs, or to offer support and guidance, even to clients whose practices one may find distasteful or morally wrong?”
Oppenheimer wrote, “Daniel Mach, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union,…said that the canons of the profession rightly put the needs of clients ahead of the sensibilities of counselors.”
Eastern Michigan contends that Ward violated the code of the American Counseling Association (ACA) which accredits counseling programs. If Eastern Michigan had graduated Ward, it would have risked its accreditation.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Religious Right legal group, represents Ward. In this and a similar case from Georgia, the Religious Right challenges the power of the ACA.
The student newspaper at Eastern Michigan quoted Ward’s lawyer, Jeremy Tedesco, “What we’re seeing is public universities and these associations like the American Counseling Association that adopt these codes of ethics, is those groups starting to interpret the code of ethics in professions that gerrymander people of faith out of the profession completely.”
The case is Ward v. Polite.

Bill to Let Tax-Exempt Groups Back Candidates

Since 1954, a federal statute has forbidden tax exempt organizations, including houses of worship, to endorse or oppose candidates for public office.
The Religious Right wants churches to campaign for candidates. Members of Congress have repeatedly introduced bills to exempt houses of worship from the law, but they have failed.
The most recent version, H.R. 3600, would allow all tax-exempt groups to campaign for or against candidates.
If you think tax-exempt groups should not campaign for or against candidates, please tell your representative. If you would like to send a ready-made message, try this.
        Dear Rep. Doe,
Please reject H.R. 3600, which would allow tax-exempt organizations to campaign
        for or against candidates.
Sincerely yours,
Your name
To Identify Your Congress Member
If you know your zip code plus four, you can take the following steps.
1. Google U.S. House of Representatives
2. Click on Find Your Representative.
3. A dialogue box will appear. Enter your zip code plus four. Click on Find Your Rep By Zip
4. Your representative’s name will appear.
5. Click on the picture of an envelope. Your representative’s contact page will appear. You will see an email form. You can write your letter there. Somewhere on the page, you will see the address of your representative’s local office. If you want to send a letter by U.S. mail, use the local address. Congress’ mail service has never recovered from the anthrax scare several years ago.
To Learn Your Zip Plus Four
Call the U.S. Post Office, 1-800-275-8777 or
1. Google zip code plus four
2. Click on Lookup
3. A dialogue box will appear. Fill it in. Click Find.
4. Your zip code plus four will appear.

Judge Nixes Oklahoma Vouchers

In March 2012, an Oklahoma State District Court declared a state voucher program in violation of the Oklahoma Constitution.
Judge Rebecca Nightingale did not explain her ruling. In an order several days later, she allowed the voucher program to continue while voucher-seeking parents appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
The Oklahoma constitution says,
“No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary or sectarian institution as such.”
Oklahoma’s Jenks and Union School Districts filed the suit.
The Tulsa World reported, “Jerry Richardson, the school districts’ attorney, noted that of the 40 private schools approved to participate in the scholarship program, only two were not affiliated with a church or religion.
“He also argued that the law doesn’t place any restrictions on what the private schools may do with the state funding.
“‘If the religious institution wants to spend every dollar on proselytizing, the Act doesn’t address this,’ Richardson said.”
The case is Jenks v. Spry.