NYC Housing Authority Sued for Denying Post 9/11 Prayer Meeting

July 7, 2008 - 7:03 PM

( - The New York City Housing Authority is being sued for refusing to allow a group to use a public housing facility for a prayer meeting after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Long Island in Central Islip, N.Y., by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), contends that Rev. Joan Daily, a Christian Evangelical minister, tried to reserve a room at the Woodside Community Center in Queens, N.Y., in mid-October.

Daily, who is also a longtime resident of public housing in Woodside, wanted to hold a Bible study class and prayer meeting for residents of the Woodside neighborhood, which lost several residents in the Sept. 11 attacks.

The housing authority denied access to Daily because of her intention to hold a religious meeting in a public facility, which is against city policy.

"At a time when communities across the city of New York were working to deal with the pain and suffering of September 11th, our client was told no - prayer is not an appropriate form of speech," said Vincent McCarthy, Senior Counsel of the ACLJ, in a statement. "Our client merely wanted the same access to a public housing facility that is routinely given to other residents.

"It is troubling that the housing authority would reject a request to permit prayer to occur in a facility that is located in the midst of a community that was deeply affected by the tragedy," McCarthy said. "The denial to use the facility was not only insensitive, but unconstitutional as well. We're confident the court will work to correct this discriminatory action."

The suit names the New York City Housing Authority, the director of community operations, the borough administrator, and the center director as defendants in the case, claiming the housing authority's policy violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

When contacted for an interview, a spokesman for the New York City Housing Authority had no comment, citing a policy that prohibits public statements about ongoing legislation.

City policy prohibits using public facilities for political or "[religious] services, unless the religious services are directly connected to the principal reason for a family-oriented event, such as weddings."

The Woodside facility is ordinarily used by exercise groups, for adult and continuing education programs, and youth programs that include karate classes and computer programs.

Daily had no comment on the case.