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LAMB'S CHAPEL v. CTR. MORICHES SCH.

May 16, 1990

LAMB'S CHAPEL AND JOHN STEIGERWALD, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CENTER MORICHES UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT AND LOUISE TRAMONTANO IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION FOR CENTER MORICHES SCHOOLS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wexler, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

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.

I. BACKGROUND

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
  connotations.
    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
  meeting.

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.

II. DISCUSSION

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, ...


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