This Op-Ed by Nicole Malliotakis originally appeared in the Brooklyn Reporter
On February 12, a number of religious congregations in our community will lose their home of worship. Over 60 houses of worship hold services at public schools throughout the city and many of these groups are small churches that have rented space in public schools for years.
These organizations will now be forced to relocate because of the unfair and misguided decision by the city’s Department of Education (DOE) to evict only these rent-paying organizations from their homes. The DOE is unfairly targeting religious institutions that have the same right to rent public spaces as any other group. To exclude only these groups is plain wrong.
In response to this mistreatment by the DOE, I have joined State Senator Marty Golden in co-sponsoring legislation that would authorize the use of school buildings and sites for religious meetings and worship, when not in use for school purposes.
The DOE has been cited as claiming that the ban resulted from concerns over having any school in this diverse city identified with one particular religious belief or practice.
In reality, the move is a blatant insult to our nation’s basic principle of freedom of religion and an insult to organizations that contribute to the fabric of our community through their acts of volunteerism and charity.
Furthermore, by tossing our religious organizations from the schools, the city is now turning away paying customers at a time when city schools can use all the additional funding available. As Reverend Ray Parascando, founding pastor of Crossroads Church of Staten Island, recently pointed out, this can translate to upwards of $2,000 per church per month in revenue.
Under the proposed legislation, it would be illegal to ban an organization from using school buildings or sites when not in use for school purposes. It is unreasonable for someone to assume that,because an organization uses a school space for a religious purpose, the school district in question endorses only that particular religious viewpoint. Religious institutions should have the same right to rent public spaces as any other group.
I want to call again on the DOE to reverse its position on this issue. However, in light of its continued failure to do so, the legislature must move swiftly to make sure our religious organizations don’t end up homeless.