GUEST OP-ED: Keeping faith-based organizations from ending up homeless

On February 12, a number of religious congregations in ourcommunity will lose their home of worship. Over 60 houses ofworship hold services at public schools throughout the city andmany of these groups are small churches that have rented space inpublic schools for years.

These organizations will now be forced to relocate because of theunfair and misguided decision by the city’s Department of Education(DOE) to evict only these rent-paying organizations from theirhomes. The DOE is unfairly targeting religious institutions thathave the same right to rent public spaces as any other group. Toexclude only these groups is plain wrong.

In response to this mistreatment by the DOE, I have joined StateSenator Marty Golden in co-sponsoring legislation that wouldauthorize the use of school buildings and sites for religiousmeetings and worship, when not in use for school purposes.

The DOE has been cited as claiming that the ban resulted fromconcerns over having any school in this diverse city identifiedwith one particular religious belief or practice.

In reality, the move is a blatant insult to our nation’s basicprinciple of freedom of religion and an insult to organizationsthat contribute to the fabric of our community through their actsof volunteerism and charity.

Furthermore, by tossing our religious organizations from theschools, the city is now turning away paying customers at a timewhen city schools can use all the additional funding available. AsReverend Ray Parascando, founding pastor of Crossroads Church ofStaten Island, recently pointed out, this can translate to upwardsof $2,000 per church per month in revenue.

Under the proposed legislation, it would be illegal to ban anorganization from using school buildings or sites when not in usefor school purposes. It is unreasonable for someone to assume that,because an organization uses a school space for a religiouspurpose, the school district in question endorses only thatparticular religious viewpoint. Religious institutions should havethe same right to rent public spaces as any other group.

I want to call again on the DOE to reverse its position on thisissue. However, in light of its continued failure to do so, thelegislature must move swiftly to make sure our religiousorganizations don’t end up homeless.

Nicole Malliotakis represents portions of Bay Ridge andStaten Island in the state Assembly.

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