The New York Senate passed a bill Monday to reverse the New York City school district's ban on worship services at its schools. Sponsored by Sen. Martin J. Golden, (R-Brooklyn), it passed 54-7.
During the voting process, Golden said that the bill was about equal access. "What this bill does is for the churches that are in school buildings to remain in those school buildings and to do their services in those buildings."
But the fight isn't over yet, as the bill still has to pass in the House where its future is less certain and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has added his own complications to the issue. He refused to hear the Senate bill on Monday, saying he was going to work on his own version.
According to the NY Daily News, Silver said he made the decision because the Senate-approved legislation was "seriously flawed" and would allow any organization, even the Ku Klux Klan, to use schools for services.
"I think the language of the Senate bill opens it up to too many groups that should not be exposed to children," Silver said.
Michael Whyland, Silver's spokesman, said in the Daily News that "the speaker intends to craft his own proposal," but couldn't guarantee the measure would be ready ahead of Sunday, when more than 60 church groups will be evicted from the public schools they meet in.
The Rev. Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, told The Christian Post that Silver sent a clear message that "this bill isn't going to pass in my House unless it's changed."
McGuire said leaders are in talks today about different amendments to the bill, and they will be "continuing the conversation."
Pastor Bill Devlin, who has been involved in protests over the ban on churches using public schools since the beginning, is optimistic. He told CP that the next step for the bill is for New York State Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, chair of the Education Committee, to bring the bill to a vote in her committee. If it passes, then it will go to the full Assembly.
The debate over the ban started back in December when a small church, the Bronx Household of Faith, which was using a public school to hold Sunday services, lost a 16-year legal battle with the city of New York which had been trying to evict the church.
The church was previously protected by an injunction that allowed houses of worship to continue using spaces in the city, but last June a federal appeals court decided to uphold the city's policy and remove the injunction.
Following the removal, the Supreme Court was asked to hear the case but refused in December, leaving the summer ruling to stand.
After the Supreme Court decision hundreds of churches and congregations have held protests outside schools, City Hall, and the Department of Law against the ban.
McGuire told CP that right now it looks like were "staring down the barrel," but he has hope that the legislation will pass and he is "encouraging pastors and churches to keep praying about the issue."