The bill still needs approval from the Assembly and the governor, but the Assembly speaker expressed doubt that the bill would move forward.
"I think the way the Senate is taking it up, it's seriously flawed," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat from Manhattan, said, according to The New York Times. "It would open up the schools to anybody. It might include the Ku Klux Klan. If you're going to do anything, you're going to have to make the city make a determination as to what's an appropriate use of the schools."
Assemblyman Nelson Castro, a Democrat from the Bronx who supports the legislation, said the issue particularly affects his constituents.
"It is my responsibility to protect my community. In my district, the Bronx Household of Faith and the Love Gospel Assembly have been directly affected by the discriminatory decision of the City of New York to prohibit worship in schools," Castro said.
In a case involving the Bronx Household of Faith, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the New York City Board of Education is authorized to prohibit any use of school buildings within its district.
"About a year and a half ago, the Love Gospel Assembly burned down and needed suitable space for a limited time to accommodate a congregation of 500 people," Castro said. "Due to this unconscious action, this church was denied a space in several schools in my district."
New York City Council member Fernando Cabrera, who also represents the Bronx, has been leading the effort to reverse the New York City Department of Education's ban on churches meeting in schools, which is to take effect Feb. 12. He called the Senate's passage of the bill Feb. 6 "a real testament to the power of bipartisan leadership."
"We now call on Speaker Silver to follow the example of the Republican-led Senate to stand for houses of worship in poor communities," Cabrera said.
Cabrera, pastor of New Life Outreach International in New York, introduced a resolution in the city council calling on the state legislature to pass and the governor to sign legislation amending the New York state education law to grant houses of worship maximum access to school property.
People on both sides of the issue spoke for more than four hours during a meeting of the city council's education committee Feb. 2, but the committee did not vote on the resolution.
The city council lacks the legislative jurisdiction to change state law, but if passed, the resolution would give the issue greater weight in the state assembly. The resolution, though, first must be voted out of the education committee, and then the city council speaker must schedule a vote before the entire council.
Cabrera said thousands of New Yorkers are in solidarity with what the Senate bill and the corresponding Assembly bill are trying to achieve.
"Small houses of worship serving primarily needy communities in New York City are in a very bad predicament right now because of a discriminatory policy," Cabrera said.
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 when it passed the bill.
"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.
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."
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net