Bay Ridge — As of Feb. 12, churches were no longer permitted by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) to use public school buildings for their worship services. That’s the day on which a ban imposed by the DOE officially went into effect.
Up to now, the city has allowed approximately 60 church congregations to use public schools to conduct worship services during non-school hours.
State Sen. Marty Golden is one of several lawmakers upset with the city’s decision. He charged that the city is discriminating against religious groups.
“Organizations based on faith deserve the same rights as all other groups, and because of their beliefs, should not be held to a different standard,” he said.
Golden sponsored a bill, which was passed in the state Senate on Feb. 6, to allow the churches back into the schools.
Calling it an important piece of legislation, Golden said he and his Senate colleagues “have taken a stand to protect the First Amendment rights of those who wish to embrace one of our nation’s founding principles, that of the freedom of religion.”
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who supports the Golden bill, is the co-sponsor of similar legislation in the Assembly.
“The Department of Education is unfairly targeting religious institutions that have the same right to rent public spaces as any other group. To exclude only these groups is just plain wrong,” Malliotakis said. “These organizations contribute to the fabric of our community through their acts of volunteerism and charity. Their mistreatment by the city is unjust and an affront to our nation’s basic principle of freedom of religion.”
Last month, City Council members and religious leaders rallied outside the hall at which Mayor Michael Bloomberg was delivering his State of the City Address to call on him to reverse the ban.
The city had been allowing churches and religious organizations to use public schools for the past 10 years, but had been under court order to do so. A federal court had ruled that the churches should be allowed access to the schools. The DOE made the accommodation and requested that the churches pay fees so that the school system could recoup the cost of custodial services.
But in December, another federal court struck down the first court order. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of that decision, meaning that the city was free to ban the churches.
— Paula Katinas