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Hallelujahs could be cut short for Bronx churches

Bronx Times

Bronx churches could once again get booted out of public schools if the city gets its prayers answered.

City lawyers asked a federal appeals court for a stay to immediately keep the churches out of public schools when the school year begins.

But lawyers for Alliance Defending Freedom, formerly Alliance Defense Fund, challenged the request on August 6.

But at least one east Bronx church head said they side with the city’s legal argument.

“There is no reparable harm the city will suffer by allowing the religious groups to meet the same way they’ve been meeting for ten years in schools,” said Lorence Jordan, senior attorney representing 60 church litigants, including The Bronx Household of Faith.

The case itself has already lumbered into the legal hands of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, though a court date has not been set.

In late June, Manhattan Federal Judge Loretta Preska granted a permanent injunction, giving secular groups the right to hold services in schools.

The city is now appealing the injunction, as well as seeking an immediate stay to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals where the three-judge panel is expected to make a decision later this month.

“It becomes a chess match,” said Pastor Jack Roberts, head of the evangelical group in University Heights.

Roberts called the filing “disrespectful” to Judge Preska’s decision. “She was very thorough in her rebuttal.”

Despite the three-judge panel previously voting against the Bronx Household of Faith, Roberts thinks the city has an uphill legal fight this time.

“What’s the rush?” he asked. “The case is already being appealed to the 2nd Circuit.”

The rush, however, is the impending start of the school year, according to city lawyers. Jane Gordon, lead counsel for the Department of Law calls the “expeditious” step critical in preserving the separation of church and state. “There’s legitimate confusion when a congregation moves in and uses (a school) as a house of worship,” said Gordon.

In her filing, Gordon argued the matter is not about the Bronx Household of Faith renting space but more about the group’s propensity for prostelityzing.

Pastor Ulf Lunow of First Lutheran Church in Throggs Neck agreed with the city, arguing itinerant churches can simply borrow space from other churches.

“Maybe they should ask other churches,” said Lunow, who gives free space to Transfiguration Church three days a week.

But Jordan disagrees, stating the group is simply there on Sundays when no students are around.

“New York City doesn’t understand the dynamics of this group,” said Lorence.

The case, both sides agree, could wind up going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It began in 1995 when Bronx Household of Faith was denied a permit to hold services at P.S. 15.

Meanwhile, west Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera, a minister and supporter of religious rights, has already introduced two bills that would rescind the Department of Education policy.

Reach reporter David Cruz at 718-742-3383 or dcruz@cnglocal.com.

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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