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State Senate Passes Bill To Permit Churches In Public School Buildings

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TWC News: State Senate Passes Bill To Permit Churches In Public School Buildings
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Churches that have been using New York City public school space for services have until next week to clear out, but the state Legislature is trying to pass a law that would let them stay. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.

Abounding Grace Ministries, originally formed on the Lower East Side, has been using space at a public school on Avenue D.

Its pastor and a coalition of clergy and elected leaders are furious that churches using schools are now facing eviction.

"What is it that the mayor wants to do? Kick us out. You want to know about instability? You want to go and undermine the very fabric of what keeps these families together right now?” said Pastor Rick Del Rio of Abounding Grace Ministries.

Bloomberg administration officials say the situation is more complicated than planned evictions. Churches had not previously been allowed to use public school space for their Sunday services, but a court case that dates back to 1996 resulted in an injunction in 2002, allowing churches to set up in schools while the case was being litigated.

Last summer, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the original plaintiffs, and late last year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case. The city intends to enforce that ruling.

"We're opposed to the bill, and I've articulated that to the various legislators that I meet with. And we're not opposed to faith-based institutions being in our schools or being able to provide services. It's just the worship part of the service," said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

Not so fast, say members of the state Senate, who on Monday passed a bill allowing the churches to stay where they are.

"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," said State Senator Martin Golden.

"What the city is doing here is plain wrong. To say that one organization cannot rent from a school but everyone else can is wrong. It's unjust," said Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Golden, passed the Senate 54 to seven. It has yet to have a hearing in the Assembly, where its fate is less certain.

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