The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wexler, District Judge.
Plaintiffs Lamb's Chapel and John Steigerwald
("Steigerwald") brought an action before this Court 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 Towards Home" (the "film series"). On May 16, 1990,
this Court issued a Memorandum and Order denying plaintiffs'
request for a preliminary injunction on the basis that
plaintiffs did not show either a substantial likelihood of
success on the merits or sufficiently serious questions going
to the merits of their case. Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches
School Dist., 736 F. Supp. 1247, 1254 (E.D.N.Y. 1990).
Thereafter, Lamb's Chapel appealed that decision to the
Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeal was withdrawn and
the case has been returned to this Court at the suggestion of
the Staff Counsel for the Second Circuit for final
disposition, and to afford this Court an opportunity to
reconsider its denial of injunctive relief in light of
Board of Education of the Westside Community Schools v.
Mergens, ___ U.S. ___, 110 S.Ct. 2356, 110 L.Ed.2d 191 (1990).
Currently before the Court are plaintiffs' motion for summary
judgment and defendants' cross-motion for same, both pursuant
to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the
reasons stated below, defendants' motion is hereby granted and
plaintiffs' motion is denied.
The undisputed facts, consisting of testimony and exhibits
presented to the Court during the hearing on plaintiffs'
motion for a preliminary injunction, 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 of 1988, Steigerwald has submitted to
defendants three applications on behalf of Lamb's Chapel 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." Plaintiffs' Exhibit 5a [hereinafter
Pl.Ex. #]. According to Steigerwald, this application was
rejected because of the religious content of the film series
that plaintiffs wished to show. 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
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 to Steigerwald on behalf of the Board, by
letter dated February 8, 1989, rejecting 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 the 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 ("Rule No.
7"),*fn3 which govern the use of school facilities.
Plaintiffs argue, however, that during 1987 and 1988 other
organizations were allowed to use the school facilities, and
that some did so for religious purposes.*fn4 In particular,
plaintiffs point to performances by the Salvation Army Youth
Band and the Southern Hamonize Gospel Singers, and a lecture
series by the Mind Center, purportedly a New Age religious
group.*fn5 Complaint at 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 § 414 of the New York Education Law and the School
District's Rule No. 7.
As previously stated, on May 16, 1990, this Court denied
plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, finding that:
(1) the School District, by enforcing restrictions on access
imposed by state statute and by its own regulations, created
a limited public forum; (2) as such, "'exclusion of uses
— even if based upon subject matter or the speaker's identity
— need only be reasonable and viewpoint-neutral to pass
constitutional muster.'" Lamb's Chapel, 736 F. Supp. at 1251
(quoting Deeper Life Christian Fellowship, Inc. v. Board of
Educ. of the City of New York, 852 F.2d 676, 679-80 (2d Cir.
1988) (citations omitted)); (3) plaintiffs had failed to
demonstrate sufficiently that the School District had a
practice of permitting use of school facilities by any
organizations for religious purposes; and (4) there was no
equal protection violation where the evidence showed that all
organizations had been prohibited from using the school
facilities for religious purposes. In short, this Court
determined that "[t]he Constitution does not require a public
school district to open its school buildings to indiscriminate
use where the state has by policy and practice circumscribed
availability through reasonable and viewpoint-neutral
regulations." Id. at 1254.