Council to Albany: Allow Religious Services in Schools

NEW YORK -

The New York City Council on Wednesday approved a longstanding but nonbinding resolution calling on the state to end the 20-year ban on allowing religious services on public school grounds, becoming the first measure to be approved over the objections of Speaker Christine Quinn.

If the state legislature heeds the council vote, which came at a comfortable 38 for and 11 against, public schools would open up for tefillos, tishen and Chol Hamoed events, as long as it does not interfere with regular classes.

This hot-button issue is supported by the major mayoral candidates, who lost no time in applauding the victory.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, one of Quinn’s mayoral rivals and a former city councilman from Boro Park, said the long delay in getting the resolution to the floor is “yet another example of deferred democracy.”

Other candidates, including Democrats Bill Thompson and John Liu, and Republicans Joe Lhota and John Catsimatidis also support the resolution.

“It is clear that all of a sudden there’s a new wave of democracy in the City Council that hasn’t existed for years,” Thompson said, adding that he was a “bit” surprised Quinn allowed the vote.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is against the resolution, and the council’s education committee erupted in a rare divisive debate on Tuesday whether to send it to the floor.

“We are all better off, I think, we’ve seen that for 200-plus years, just keeping church and state separate,” Bloomberg said on Tuesday. “It gives everybody the equal rights that this country was founded on.”

A spokeswoman for Quinn crafted the resolution as an attack on the separation of church and state but said she did not pressure members to vote against. She had kept it from a vote for more than a year, which would have been sufficient to bottle it in different times, but council members are showing a greater willingness to assert their independence at this point in the election cycle.

“The religious community must be given the same rights, equal treatment, as anyone else,” Councilman Fernando Cabrera (D-Bronx), a pastor who was the resolution’s main sponsor.

Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), in voting yes, said that his daughter’s Hebrew class meets in a public school.

“The decision by New York City to throw out churches and synagogues from public schools discriminated against religious New Yorkers,” Councilman David Greenfield (D-Brooklyn) told Hamodia in an email.

The issue has mainly been played out in the court system for the past two decades. Most recently, a federal judge ruled last year that the state Department of Education’s ban on religious services on school premises was unconstitutional. Bloomberg appealed; the case is pending.

Making a surprise appearance at the vote was Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Queens), his first return to the council since his arrest last month.

“I’m here fulfilling my obligations,” Halloran said. “I’m here doing my job, the job I was elected to do.”

Halloran voted yes on everything on the Council’s agenda.