By Stan Friedman
BRONX, NY (January 27, 2012) – Legislation that would allow churches to use schools after hours and when no one else is in the building received unanimous approval in the New York State Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.
The bill was introduced following protests led in part by Evangelical Covenant Church pastors over New York City’s recently implemented policy that will evict more than 60 churches from city schools by February 12. Michael Carrion, pastor of Promised Land Covenant Church, is on the steering committee that launched the protests.
“The consensus across the board is that ‘we are ecstatic about the unanimous approval’ but are prayerful and concerned about Gov. Cuomo signing off on it,” Carrion told Covenant News Service today.
The pastors as well as several politicians started the protests after the United States Supreme Court refused to consider a 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals 2-1 ruling in favor of the city. The city argues that allowing the churches to meet in the schools is a violation of the principle of separation of church and state.
In a released statement, State Senator Martin J. Golden (R-C-I, Brooklyn), who sponsored the legislation, said, “As the freedom of religion is a basic principle of this great nation, it is only then sensible that religious institutions, holding services open to the public, be allowed to do so in public school buildings. 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. These misguided polices that have been put into place do nothing more than detract from the right to worship.”
Due to the protests, the City Council is scheduled to hold a hearing on the issue next Tuesday.
Peaceful protests have grown following an initial rally on January 6 when several pastors were arrested outside the Department of Education building and charged with misdemeanor trespassing. City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who also is a pastor, was among those arrested.
Roughly 30 people attended that protest, which Carrion says was the first in the city. Since that day various prayer gatherings, sit-ins and other protests have spread across the city.
On Januaryy 12, a second rally was held outside Morris High School, where Mayor Bloomberg was giving his state of the city speech. Twenty pastors representing different denominations were among 43 people who were arrested.
On January 18, more than 150 people including several council members and the city’s comptroller joined a rally on the steps of a local courthouse. A march across the Brooklyn Bridge is planned for 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Carrion said Korean United Congregations, which has 4,000 members, has pledged its strong support of the event.
Promised Land and Metro Hope do not meet in schools, but the pastors have said it is important for them to act in solidarity with the congregations that would be affected.
Finding other places for churches to rent or purchase can be nearly impossible because of high costs, Carrion said.
Church leaders add that closing the church would harm their communities. The congregations play a vital role in addressing social ills, said Carrion. His congregation is located in the country’s poorest congressional district. Ministries of the churches being evicted include literacy, anti-violence, and other educational programs, he added.
No other city or state bans churches from meeting in schools.
Editor’s note: Photo courtesy of Christine A. Scheller, a writer with Urban Faith.