The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wexler, District Judge.
Plaintiffs Lamb's Chapel and John Steigerwarld
("Steigerwald") bring this action for declaratory and
injunctive relief against the Center Moriches Union Free
School District ("School District") and Louise Tramontano, in
her official capacity as President of the School District's
Board of Education (the "Board"), because of defendants'
refusal to allow plaintiffs to use the School District's
facilities during nonschool hours for the purpose of showing
a film series by Dr. James Dobson, entitled "Turn Your Heart
Toward Home" (the "film series"). Presently before the Court
is plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction to compel
defendants to allow plaintiffs to show the film series in the
School District's facilities. For the reasons below, the
motion is denied.
The facts as alleged in the complaint and as adduced at the
hearing on plaintiffs' motion on March 14, 1990 are as
follows: Lamb's Chapel is an evangelical Christian church
located in Center Moriches, New York, and incorporated under
New York's Not-for-Profit Corporation Law; Steigerwald is its
pastor. Since November 1988, on behalf of Lamb's Chapel
Steigerwald has submitted three applications to defendants to
use the School District's high school facilities.
The first application, dated November 19, 1988, stated that
the purpose for which Lamb's Chapel sought to use the
facilities was "to conduct Sunday a.m. service and Sunday
School, Nursery, etc." Plaintiff's Exhibit 5a [hereinafter
Pl.Ex. #]. According to Steigerwald, this application was
rejected because of the religious content of the film series.
Subsequently, by the second and third applications, dated
December 16, 1988 and October 11, 1989, respectively,
plaintiffs sought to use the high school auditorium for one
evening for five consecutive weeks to show the film series.
For purposes of this action, plaintiffs' conceded at the
hearing that the film series is of a religious nature and the
showing is for a religious purpose.*fn1
Following an initial review of the December 16 application,
by letter dated January 18, 1989, Alice Schoener ("Schoener"),
the School District's business manager and district clerk, on
behalf of the Board, wrote Steigerwald to express the School
District's concern that plaintiffs' use of the facilities
appeared to be for a religious purpose. The letter indicated
that the School District is
bound by education law concerning the use of
school facilities by religious organizations.
Fortunately, we have not, to date, been put to
the test of determining when a use of the
facility by one of our local churches would
constitute "religious purposes." I am hard
pressed to determine from your description, what
the five-part movie would represent, but suspect
that it would certainly have religious
The district has not, in the past, allowed the
high school auditorium to be used by any group
primarily for its own purposes. . . .
If you care to pursue your request, please
provide a more detailed description of your
proposed use (including a brochure describing the
film). . . . I will be happy to present your
request to the Board of Education at our February
Pl.Ex. 6b. After receiving and reviewing the brochure,
Schoener again wrote Steigerwald on behalf of the Board, by
letter dated February 8, 1989, to reject the application
because the film "appear[ed] to be church related." Pl.Ex. 6d.
The third application, substantially similar to the second,
was denied on the same basis.
According to defendants, the legal basis for refusing the
requests was that use of the facilities for religious purposes
would violate § 414 of the New York Education Law*fn2 and Rule
No. 7 of the School District's Rules and Regulations for
Community Use of School Facilities,*fn3 which govern the use
of its facilities.
Plaintiffs argue, however, that during 1987 and 1988 other
organizations had been allowed to use the school facilities,
and that some had done so for religious purposes.*fn4 In
particular, plaintiffs point to performances by the Salvation
Army Youth Band and the Southern Harmonize Gospel Singers, and
a lecture series by the Mind Center, purportedly, a New Age
religious group.*fn5 Complaint para. 18. Because of this
practice, plaintiffs contend that they too should be allowed
to use the school facilities for religious purposes.
Plaintiffs argue that defendants have violated their first and
fourteenth amendment rights of freedom of speech, freedom of
association and free exercise of religion and their fourteenth
amendment right to equal protection. Defendants contend that
they may properly refuse to allow any group to use the
facilities for religious purposes. In this respect, they
maintain that they would not and did not knowingly allow any
organization to use the school facilities for religious
purposes. In addition, they argue that allowing plaintiffs to
use the facilities for religious purposes would violate the
Establishment Clause of the first amendment, as well as
N YEduc.Law § 414 and the School District's Rule No. 7.
A. Preliminary Injunction Standard
In the Second Circuit, to obtain a preliminary injunction
the moving party must show: "(a) irreparable harm and (b)
either (1) likelihood of success on the merits or (2)
sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make
them a fair ground for litigation and a balance of hardships
tipping decidedly toward the party requesting the preliminary
relief." Deeper Life Christian Fellowship, Inc. v. Board of
Educ., 852 F.2d 676, 679 (2d Cir. 1988) (quoting Jackson Dairy,
Inc. v. H.P. Hood & Sons, ...