Church services
to continue at P.S. 89

By Jane Flanagan

Downtown Express file photo by Elisabeth Robert
Worshippers at Mosaic’s services in P.S. 89 earlier this year.

Mosaic Manhattan, a new Christian group holding regular Sunday worship service at P.S. 89, should be able to do so indefinitely, now that a federal appeals court has ruled.

Mosaic, a Christian church run by Battery Park City resident and P.S. 89 parent, Gregg Farah, has been convening Sunday mornings in the school auditorium since early this year.

The court case involved a suit brought by the Bronx Household of Faith, an evangelical Christian church, against the Board of Ed over the right to worship in a public school. A panel of the United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, ruled 2 to 1 in favor of the church.

The case is the latest of many around the country brought by religious groups seeking greater access to public schools. Many of the churches, including Bronx Household, were represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based conservative legal group. The fund also opposes abortion and criticized last week’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a Texas law banning gay sexual relations between consenting adults.

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department filed a “friend of the court” brief supporting the Bronx church’s request. Several Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the Southern District of New York, based in Lower Manhattan, were party to the brief in support of the church.

The Bronx ruling is good news to Farah, whose lease at P.S. 89 just expired. Farah had only been able to renew it for half a year because school officials were awaiting word on the ruling, he said. He will now seek a full-year lease. Mosaic pays $300 per Sunday to use the auditorium. Previously, Farah looked for space elsewhere Downtown but found rents were too expensive.

Since learning about Mosaic’s weekly services, Pearl Scher, a member of the Downtown Synagogue which also needs space for weekly service, began contacting schools, too. But so far, despite considerable effort, she has not succeeded, she said. Some schools simply do not have the room, she said. At other schools, officials appeared to be confused by her request, assuming it was still illegal for religious groups to meet there, said Scher. She did, however, get permission from the staff at P.S. 234 to hold Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services there, despite their uneasiness about it.

“They said they hate the co-mingling of church and state,” said Scher. “I said, ‘So do I,” she said, adding that, nonetheless, if the law allows other religions to worship in the schools, the synagogue is entitled to space.

The city’s law department is seeking to appeal the Bronx case. City lawyers recently submitted papers requesting to appear before the full Second Circuit Court. The previous ruling came from a three judge panel. It will likely be at least a month, however, before the court decides whether or not to take the case.


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