Council debates place of religion in schools

Religious groups are fighting for their right to worship in New York City public schools, but opponents say they don’t have a prayer.

 Churches and civil rights groups testified at a Council education hearing Thursday about whether religious services should be held in public schools.

Right now, about 160 congregations meet in public schools around the city, on the weekends and in gyms and auditoriums. But in June, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a controversial decision by the New York City Department of Education to prohibit the services.

 The Council is mulling a resolution that supports a state bill, which would give greater flexibility for school districts to allow church groups. Even if this passes, however, its ability to overrule the federal court decision would likely be challenged in court, New York Civil Liberties Union spokeswoman Jennifer Carnig said.

Congregations currently using public school space have until Feb. 12 to find another place of worship.
“Religious organizations should not be treated any differently from any other community organization,” city Comptroller John Liu said in a statement to the Council, comparing churches to other groups that use schools after hours, such as sports teams, community boards and cultural groups.

The NYCLU argued that services send the message that the government favors Christian churches over other faiths. “Turning our public schools into churches undermines the core American principle of separation of church and state,” NYCLU director Donna Lieberman said.

Councilman leads rally

Bronx City Councilman Fernando Cabrera championed the city resolution. Cabrera is also pastor of New Life Outreach International church. He led a rally Sunday about the bill and was previously arrested during a similar protest. “This is the epitome of religious discrimination,” he said at the Sunday protest, as he pushed Mayor Michael Bloomberg to support the bill. 

Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @AlisonatMetro

 



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