Today, the City Council will vote on a resolution on whether to allow churches to meet in public schools. Yesterday, the council's Education Committee passed a "Right to Worship" resolution with a vote of 14 to 5 calling upon the State Assembly to allow houses of worship to rent from public schools. Council Speaker Christine Quinn previously had blocked any votes from being taken; however, in this election year she is letting the vote go forward. She still opposes the resolution. Council members Jessica Lappin, Danny Drumm, Dan Garodnick, Oliver Koppel and Karen Koslowitz voted against the resolution. Lappin is running against Councilman Robert Jackson, who is for the resolution, for Manhattan Borough President.
City Councilman Fernando Cabrera (D-Bronx) guided the effort to pass the resolution.
"Houses of worship should be allowed to rent just like any other non profit organization," the councilman wrote on his Facebook page. "The US Constitution provides for the free exercise of religion and all citizens have freedom of speech in all public spaces, including public schools. It is ironic that the NYC public schools are currently renting from Catholic churches and they have no problem with it, and yet they don't want churches, synagogues or mosques to rent public schools. This is a double standard. We are the only school district in America with such a discriminatory policy."
With mayoral support the New York Board of Education have vigorously fought to eject churches and other religious groups from using public school space in the off hours as do secular groups. Until this week, Quinn has blocked a vote on the issue.
At a press conference in front of the Tweed Courthouse in Lower Manhattan, city school’s Chancellor Dennis Walcott joined Council Member Jessica Lappin and New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman to call out against the resolution. Walcott said that an injunction awarded by a federal judge in 2011 stops the city from enforcing their efforts to enforce a ban. He said the city has “very legitimate concerns about appearing to endorse religion by permitting religious worship services in public school buildings.”
The federal courts are also considering the issue, but a vote in favor of the religious groups by the council would undercut legal arguments that the community, the people of New York City, don't want the religious groups to be allowed to meet in the public schools during the off hours.
A Journey Data Center poll last Fall found that 69% of the neighbors of the schools approved of the provision of space to religious groups during the off hours. Today, the fifty-one city council members will decide whether they will go along in this election year with popular sentiment or with Quinn. In the State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has blocked such resolutions, but he too is feeling public heat from how he has mishandled sex abuse charges against Assemblyman Vito Lopez and other political leaders.