NY Mayor Bill de Blasio Lifts Ban Blocking Churches From Holding Services in Public-School Buildings; Grace Fellowship Church Celebrates

Pastor Jon Storck / Fred Mogul/WNYC
Pastor Jon Storck / Fred Mogul/WNYC

It was a jubilant Palm Sunday at Grace Fellowship Church in Queens, where a congregation celebrated a decision by Mayor Bill de Blasio to allow religious services in public-school buildings.

Grace Fellowship Church, which meets at Public School 150 in the Sunnyside section of Queens, was one of about 30 churches facing eviction after a U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision earlier this month upheld the city’s right to bar them from worshiping in public schools on weekends.

“I feel like now we can focus our attention on being a good neighbor,” Rev. Jon Storck, the pastor of Grace Fellowship Church, said after services Sunday inside the colorfully decorated walls of P.S. 150.

Supporters of the ban, including former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, argued that the use of the space by churches violates the separation of church and state. But Mr. de Blasio said last week that he would move to allow the churches. “A faith-based organization has a right like anyone else” to use the public-school space, he said.

In doing so, the mayor stepped into a long-standing debate over whether the use of the space by churches identifies Dept. of Education buildings with Christianity.

The decadeslong battle began in 1995, when the Bronx Household of Faith, a small congregation, sued the city over the policy, saying it violated freedom of religion under the Constitution.

The church lost the lawsuit in 1998 but was able to stay in Public School 15 in the Bronx after a federal judge halted its eviction.

A 2012 District Court ruling that struck down the city’s ban was overruled by the Second Circuit April 10, paving the way for the city to push churches out.

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SOURCE: Wall Street Journal – Mara Gay

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