New York, NY — The New York City Council passed a resolution this week calling upon the state legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo to grant churches the right to meet in schools after hours.
The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal, officially known as the “Right to Worship” resolution, with a final tally of 38-11.
“Here you have the most progressively leaning Democratic city council in the entire U.S., and they vote by a huge margin in favor of the freedom to worship,” said Pastor Bill Devlin, who has been working with other pastors in the city to push for equal access. “The Lord did this.”
Some members of city council stated that they voted for the resolution as they believe that churches are currently being discriminated against, since other groups are allowed to utilize school buildings when vacant.
“[Churches] are not asking for free space,” said Democratic Council Member Fernando Cabrera, who spearheaded the effort to obtain passage of the resolution. “They’re asking for equal treatment just like any other non-profit [organization].”
“I ask for you to support this resolution mainly because with respect to religious institutions using our school, they pay a fee — the same fee [as] every other organization that wants to use the school. There’s no discounts,” echoed Democratic Council Member Robert Jackson on Wednesday during a hearing on the matter. “It’s not like school is in session where you’re having a religious institution renting the space and children are being exposed to religion in school.”
However, other members spoke out against the proposal, claiming that it presents constitutional concerns.
“In my opinion, allowing worship services in our schools violates both the Establishment Clause and the Blaine Amendment,” remarked Democratic Council Member Oliver Koppell. “Yes, it’s true, they may pay a fee, but … that’s not the principal issue, frankly. The principal issue is whether we should have in our schools religious services, even if it’s not during school time. That should not be part of the public discourse, and therefore, this resolution should be defeated.”
The resolution’s most vocal opponent was Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is currently running for mayor of the city.
“Speaker Quinn believes strongly in the separation of church and state as a critical element of our democracy,” a Quinn spokesperson told the New York Daily News.
While the issue has been debated for quite some time, this is the first that Quinn has allowed a vote on the matter. Last year, she blocked a vote on the concern.
Following the passage of the resolution, which does not serve as law, but is rather a simple statement to New York legislators, Christian organizations applauded City Council.
“Churches that have been helping communities for years should be allowed to continue to offer the hope that empty buildings cannot,” said Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a a Christian legal group based in Scottsdale, Arizona. “We commend the New York City Council for urging the state legislature to repeal the Department of Education’s policy banning worship services from vacant school buildings.”
“Alliance Defending Freedom will continue to defend the freedom of churches and other religious groups to meet in public schools until they are as free as other groups to serve their communities,” it added.
In the meantime, the case of Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York continues its 18-year-long battle in the courts as it is currently being decided by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. District Court Judge Loretta Presha had issued a permanent injunction last June in favor of local houses of worship, but her ruling was later appealed.