New York’s Ban on Relgious Groups

28 03 2007

Filed under: Church and State, Politics, First Amendment

Posting on the road again today…found this article of interest that needs sharing. Good to see ADF working on this case that exposes a city in New York for renting facilities equally to any group, except churches.

“The state of New York, over the last 20 years, has been the worst place for equal access,” said Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, which is working on the case on behalf of Relevant Church. “Even though there have been five major Supreme Court decisions from 1981 that you cannot treat religious users with religious speech worse than everyone else, nonetheless these policies persist,” he told WND.

The lawsuit seeks an immediate injunction ordering the state to allow the church to rent a facility – otherwise available to anyone – for its Easter Sunday service. Lorence called the policy “wildly out of step” with court affirmations of church rights.

In this specific case, the church, whose congregation has outgrown its own building, usually rents another nearby building for its Sunday services. However, there were scheduling conflicts on Easter and another approaching Sunday, so officials asked to rent the Dulles State Office Building. Those facilities specifically are available to “nearly all groups in the community for any ‘educational, cultural, or civic’ purpose.” But the state policy specifically prohibits religious “activities” or “services,” a clear violation of Supreme Court precedent, the ADF said.

“Government officials do not have the right to discrimination against Christian groups,” Lorence said. “When the state opens up a building for community groups to rent, it must be fair and permit equal access. The courts have repeatedly ruled on this, but here we are again.” He said courts recently have ruled in favor of two other New York churches represented by ADF attorneys regarding equal access, including a decision that resulted in a permanent injunction in a case involving the New York City Board of Education.

But in Watertown, state officials have allowed the rock band Tough Luck, a video game event, a meeting of Toastmasters, a presentation of “The Nutcracker,” a presentation by a “mural painter and social activist,” a meeting of Citizens Against Illegal Drugs, a performance of “Come Meet Clifford the Big Red Dog,” and “Bubble Mania.” But they won’t rent to Relevant Church, whose pastor, Robert Miskowski, was told that the so-called “separation of church and state” prohibited the church from renting.

“It’s astonishing that state officials would not view faith as serving any ‘education, cultural, or civic’ purpose, but regardless, government officials are required to be fair,” Lorence said. “We hope that the state will obey the law and allow this church to rent public facilities just as other groups are permitted to do.” Lorence said the church simply is asking to rent the facility on the same terms and conditions as other users. And he said court rulings have made clear simply allowing a religious group to rent a facility on those same conditions does not create a government “endorsement” of religious statements. He said the emergency request was pending before a federal judge, but the ADF was preparing to appeal up to the U.S. Supreme Court if needed to ensure the church had a place to meeting on Easter Sunday, April 8.

This is one more example of what happens when something that is not in the Constitution is suddenly “found” by activist judges. That is, others blow it way out of proportion and are unable to make a clear and accurate discernment of what the true intent of the First Amendment truly is.

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