NY Senate to Decide on House of Worship Ban Today

New York City and state officials and religious leaders on Monday urged the state legislature to pass a bill authorizing religious meetings in public school property.

Assemblyman Nelson L. Castro organized a press conference in Albany, N.Y., to discuss State Assembly Bill A8800 and State Senate Bill 6087A, that would allow houses of worship to rent empty spaces in public schools during non-school hours.

New York City Councilmember Fernando Cabrera told The Christian Post that the Senate is set to vote on Senate Bill 6087A today and he believes "it's going to pass." The assembly is not expected to consider Bill A8800 today, according to Cabrera, and the only other time it will meet this week is Tuesday.

City and statewide leaders are fighting to pass these bills because a ban is set to go into effect on Feb. 12 prohibiting houses of worship from meeting in public schools. The two bills would lift the ban on churches.

Jason McGuire, head of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, told, "I don't think there will be any problem with the Assembly having the votes if we can get [State Assembly Bill A8800] to the floor." The problem, he said, was getting it to the floor.

The other question remaining is whether or not Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, will sign the bill into law.

"The governor really has been silent on this issue," McGuire said. "We've not heard anything, but we think that when the governor realizes that this is a policy of religious discrimination that he's going to go ahead and have to sign the legislation."

Assemblyman Castro, who held Monday's press conference, said in a released statement that he supports the bill because over a year ago a church in his district "burned down and needed suitable space for a limited time to accommodate a congregation of 500 people. The church was denied a space in several schools in my district."

"This bill," he said, "would prevent school districts from excluding groups from meeting in school property because of the religious content or viewpoint of their speech, including allowing religious worship services. Public school property will be under the control and supervision of the trustees and board of education of the district."

Other legislation surrounding the issue is Resolution 1155, sponsored by Councilman Cabrera. It urges the passage of the two bills. Cabrera told CP they "had a hearing last week, and now were waiting for the speaker to come to the floor. We have 34 sponsors, the only thing holding this up is the speaker."

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.

The city had been trying to evict the church, but the Household of Faith was protected by an injunction that allowed houses of to continue using spaces in the city.

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.

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