After This Weekend, Any School Being Used For Worship Must Be Vacated

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A ban on organized worship in New York City school buildings will take effect next week — a controversial change that could leave as many as 17,000 worshippers looking for a new place to pray.

More than a few of those people live in the Bronx, reports CBS 2’s Lou Young.

In a city seemingly full of churches a debate is raging over places where prayer might be off-limits.

Small congregations are howling over a rule to ban organized worship in city school buildings even when there are no students in them. It’s a case, they say, of over-separation of church and state.

“We’re renting an empty building. The school has a policy that if they have an activity on Sunday we get pre-empted. We understand that,” said Rev. Robert Hall of Bronx Household of Faith.

Reverend Hall is building his own church, but has rented space across the street at P.S 15 for Sunday worship until it’s finished. New city rules say he’ll have to find someplace else after this weekend. Civil libertarians say that’s as it should be.

“The New York City Department of Education has made the right decision in prohibiting churches from conducting religious services in public schools,” said Donna Lieberman of the N.Y. Civil Liberties Union.

Religious groups would still be allowed to rent schools for discussions and instruction, just not for worship services.

“When religious services/worship services are allowed to take place in our school buildings it gives the impression that the school endorses that religion,” Lieberman said.

Reverend Dimas Salaberios holds services in a housing project gymnasium every Sunday: a public building seemingly unaffected by the activity.

“For somebody to think that because you meet for an hour and half and say words about Jesus that your whole building becomes this consecrated place is the strangest thing,” Rev. Salaberios said.

This very American debate about separation of church and state seems especially ironic to Pastor Hall, whose congregation here is Protestant Congregationalist, which is essentially New England Puritan and he points out you really can’t get more American than that.

A bill has been introduced in Albany that would reverse the DOE’s decision, but it’s currently bottled up in committee.

Do you think the DOE is doing the right thing? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below. …