The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 2nd District reversed a 2012 ruling Thursday that allowed the Bronx Household of Faith in New York to rent meeting space. The decision has far reaching implications for churches seeking to rent public facilities for purposes of conducting worship services.
Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, reacted to the ruling.
“The court systems’ capricious and bizarre mistreatment of churches is an atrocity,” Moore said. “Church plants, operating within the rules and doing nothing to disrupt others, have been tossed about by the courts on the question simply of whether they can rent facilities in which to worship.”
Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, also commented on the ruling.
“This decision will have a negative impact on all faith groups that often make use of public spaces,” Ezell. “These groups pay to rent the space. We are not asking anything for free. I believe the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and New York City government officials have made a poor decision that ultimately conflicts with the U.S. Constitution and will be overturned. In the meantime, we will do everything we can to be sure our churches are able to find alternative locations so New York City residents will still be able to worship freely near their homes.”
The Bronx Household of Faith, an inner-city church in New York City, has conducted its services at a city school for the last decade. However in 2011, a federal appeals court ruled that it would be a violation to the Constitution’s establishment clause to allow schools to be converted into churches.
The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C.