Homeless May Sleep On Church Steps, Court Rules

A federal appeals court has barred New York City police from removing homeless people who sleep on the steps of a church.

In late April, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s order allowing Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church to continue allowing the homeless to sleep on the church’s steps.

New York City officials had forbidden the congregation to  permit homeless people to sleep on its steps and the sidewalk in front of the church. According to the Religion News Service, the city argued that the steps and sidewalk constituted an illegal shelter and that city shelters were better equiped to handle the homeless population.

When city police started removing homeless people from the location, the church sued, arguing that the action violated the church’s First Amendment rights to free association and the free exercise of religion. The congregation also claimed that the city’s stance violated its rights under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

A federal judge issued an order barring police from removing the homeless from the church’s steps, but allowing the police to remove them from the sidewalk in front of the church.

The 2nd Circuit affirmed the judge’s order in Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church v. City of New York.