Sponsored by assistant Senate Majority Whip Martin J. Golden, the bill would "prevent school districts from excluding groups from meeting on school property because of the religious content or viewpoint of their speech, including allowing religious worship services."
"I salute the New York State Senate Education Committee on taking bold and decisive action on this important issue," said New York City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who urged state legislators to address the matter. "I am confident the Assembly will follow suit, and urge Gov. Cuomo to sign the legislation when it reaches his desk."
If S6087A, approved by the committee Jan. 24, does not pass, New York City would become the first major city nationwide to ban churches from meeting in public schools.
In December, the New York Department of Education told about 60 churches they have until Feb. 12 to find alternative meeting spaces.
Several peaceful demonstrations protesting the policy have taken place. Cabrera, who also is a pastor, was one of several people arrested for a show of civil disobedience earlier in January.
Ray Parascando, pastor of Crossroads Church in Staten Island, N.Y., which has met in a public school for four years, commended the Senate committee for moving the bill forward.
"It shows that it's not isolated to churches and pastors that think this is unconstitutional," Parascando told Baptist Press. "It shows that local elected leaders, regardless of their spiritual affiliations, think this is unfair.
"This is picking up steam. There are a number of local and now regional politicians within the five boroughs that are stepping up to the plate and making phone calls and putting their names on bills," Parascando said. "I think there's a strong possibility that this could get overturned and at the very least an extension will be given."
The bill says groups should be allowed to gather in schools "even in the event that such meetings include religious content or views in their speech, so long as these meetings are open to the general public."
Crossroads Church has painted 16 schools in all five boroughs of New York City as part of a Southern Baptist initiative called Paint the Town. Parascando said even if Crossroads is prevented from meeting in Public School 52, the church will continue to support the schools.
"Knowing all of this, we will still paint the schools this summer because we care about the children, we care about the faculty, we care about the Department of Education and what they're about," Parascando said. "So even though we don't agree with a lot of their decisions, especially this regulation, we still want to minister in the love of Jesus Christ by serving."
Parascando expressed gratitude for the prayer support Crossroads and other churches in New York City have received from people throughout the nation.
"We received some encouraging emails, and that stuff goes a long way," he said. "I think one of the purposes that God has for this situation is it gives us an opportunity to reach out for prayer more, and that never hurts. Ultimately, it's great that all these local leaders are behind it, and I commend them, but the church still needs to be praying hard for this."
Republicans control the Senate; Democrats the Assembly.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach and World News Service.
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net