NEW YORK — In a reversal of a lower court’s decision, a federal appeals panel ruled Thursday that New York City can bar religious groups from holding services in public schools as well as the teaching of facts during Sunday school.
Judge Pierre N. Leval, writing for the majority, said the ban was “consistent with…constitutional duties,” and that it did not violate the right to free exercise of religion. Leval also noted as there with nothing in the Bill of Rights prohibiting the flow of factual information, the court was entitled to ban it from religious services.
“Teaching scientifically-testable and independently verifiable truth is not what the Founding Fathers envisioned for our nation’s religious institutions,” Leval said in his written opinion. “All Sunday Schools in the City of New York must therefore immediately remove all factual data from their curriculum and stick to church-approved mythology and superstition.”
Hailed as a victory in the decades-long battle over separation of church and state, secularists say the ruling will ensure public schools remain free of state-endorsed religion, as well as protecting the right of churches to remain untethered to the post-Scientific Revolution world. However, some religious leaders are angered at the ruling.
“It isn’t the job of New York to tell me how much, or how little, factual information I want to inject into my sermons,” Bronx pastor Matthew Maynard told reporters. “Maybe I want to mention that William McKinley died on September 14, 1901 between stories about the guy who survived 40 days without drinking water. It’s my church, damn it!”
While Mayor de Blasio is in favor of the right of religious organizations to hold services in public schools, in contrast to the policy of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, de Blasio supported the court’s ruling on factual teachings, noting, “[I]t isn’t fair to allow our churches, synagogues, or mosques to make appeals to scientific law, any more than it would be fair to instruct all the chemistry teachers in the city to pray to Zeus. This is a victory for both groups.”
“I stand by my belief that a faith organization playing by the same rules as any community nonprofit deserves access,” de Blasio said. “But at the same time, you can’t be bringing in science and reason into a church or a Sunday school.”