An evangelical Christian church has been told by New York City officials that it can no longer rent a community room in a federally funded housing project named after Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
“It does present a very ugly picture of the state of religious liberties in New York City,” said Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund. “It’s the height of irony that the housing authority would violate the First Amendment at a place named after a Supreme Court justice.”
Lorence said the New York City Housing Authority based their decision on a recent court case that said New York City has a constitutional right to bar churches from renting schools during non-school hours for worship services.
The Supreme Court declined to review the case – meaning dozens of Christian churches will be forced to find other places to hold their services.
“What’s next – Central Park?” Lorence asked. “Religious groups can’t meet there? Where is this all going to stop?”
A spokesperson for the NYC Housing Authority declined to comment but did offer the following statement:
“The terms of this lease have expired and the New York City Housing Authority is reviewing the renewal of all of its leases,” the spokesman said.
However, Lorence told Fox News & Commentary there is no expiration date on the lease and when the pastor of Bronx Bible Church was contacted by the NYC Housing Authority there was no mention of the end of the year expiration of the lease.
“This is an arbitrary and unconstitutional decision,” he told Fox News & Commentary. “Even if they adopt an anti-worship service policy, they haven’t done so yet. So there’s no reason why they should be kicking out a church – especially during the holidays.”
Lorence said the decision to evict the church sends a dangerous message to the city’s Christian community.
“They’re suggesting that religion is something dangerous, that people shouldn’t be exposed to and that is an extreme and wrong understanding of the Establishment Clause,” Lorence said. “Religious expression is being driven away, prohibited in public buildings that are open to all other community groups to meet.”