Guest Op-Ed: Let Churches Meet in Empty Schools

By Councilman Vincent Gentile

Anybody who objects to what the President is trying to do to the Catholic Church should be equally outraged at what Mayor Bloomberg is doing to Christian congregations that meet in vacant, closed public schools on weekends — space that they pay the city to use!

How ironic that the city finds it OK to rent space for school activities in church buildings during the school week, but won’t allow churches to rent space in public schools on weekends when schools are closed. Apparently, it is not a church/state issue when the city rents space from the church, but not vice versa?

Proponents cloak the argument in bogus constitutional terms in order to justify the Mayor’s unjust action. But no matter what your religious background, fairness dictates that New Yorkers need to be vocal and object to the Mayor blocking the use of empty space by primarily Christian groups who are paying for the use of the space.

We allow art exhibitions in government-funded museums where religious symbols are covered with ants or excrement and should anyone object the response is a pious lecture about freedom of expression and free speech. Yet, when Christians gather to venerate those very same symbols in a spiritual way, but in a school on a weekend, those Christians get an indignant lecture about separation of church and state.

This is a tragic double standard. It’s hypocritical, wrong and unfair. It’s unjustified because there is no constitutional bar and that’s why New Yorkers need to speak out about this.

I see nothing wrong with congregations holding their weekend services in any one of the city’s empty school buildings, provided they cover the cost of custodial services needed for use of the facilities, etc.

I see no reason why churches and other religious groups shouldn’t be able to meet in public buildings on the same terms as other community groups during non-school hours. I do not consider this to infringe on the separation of church and state.

If this is not reversed, perhaps the worshippers should take their services out to the empty bike lanes and pedestrian plazas that he has created all over the city!