The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] on Thursday upheld [opinion, PDF] a regulation by the New York City Board of Education banning religious groups from holding worship services in school buildings. The ruling reverses a district court’s 2012 decision that the ban violated the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses [JURIST backgrounder] of the First Amendment [text]. In a 2-1 decision, the Second Circuit held that allowing religious organizations to use schools for services constituted “government financing” of religious exercise and that the Board of Education’s ban was “consistent with its constitutional duties.” The challenge to the regulation was brought by the Bronx Household of Faith [official website], a conservative Congregational church, after it was denied access to school facilities in 2007, shortly after the regulation was adopted.
The bounds of religious freedom continues to be a hotly debated issue in the US. This week Mississippi lawmakers passed [JURIST report] the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act [SB 2681, PDF] which prevents the state from taking any action which “burdens” a citizen’s right to religious exercise. In March the US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [JURIST report] on whether companies have a right to an exemption from the contraception provision of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) [text; JURIST backgrounder] for religious reasons. Also in March JURIST Guest Columnist Joseph La Rue of Alliance Defending Freedom described [JURIST op-ed] the motivation behind Religious Freedom Restoration Acts and the impact Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s veto [JURIST report] of a bill that would have permitted state business owners to refuse service to individuals for “religious reasons.”