Yesterday, Mayor de Blasio said that religious organizations have the right to use our City’s public school buildings as their own, going against a long-standing court decision ruling that the Department of Education did not have to allow faith services in academic buildings. This is extremely troubling.
This is not a debate on freedom of religion or speech, but rather a look at if religious organizations should be allowed to use government property as their own. Allowing religious groups to rent space from public schools can be seen as a show of support for all religious practices that enter the academic building. In the past, this has included hate speech.
In 2011, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Department of Education did not have to allow religious services in schools, and that this prohibition did not violate the First Amendment - a decision that was recently reaffirmed. The ruling was the result of a 16 year court case, regarding the Bronx Household of Faith.
What our City's history shows us on this issue is allowing religious organizations to utilize public school buildings as their own space, results in an abuse of power. Groups have masked as faith groups to spread hate speech about certain constituencies – including the LGBT community.
In the backyard of where the LGBT movement started, the Village Church used P.S. 3 in Greenwich Village as its house of worship from 2003-2012. During their time in using the public school as their place of worship, the group also ran an organization called GAME - Gender Affirming Ministry Endeavor. This program was run to 'convert' members of the LGBT community, which was part of the widely discredited and condemned Exodus International Church – a religious organization. We can't allow groups like this to multiply and spread to other communities, while utilizing government property as their own, under the Mayor's new decision.
We believe using a public school building to preach hate runs counter to our City's mission of ensuring all students feel welcome and safe in our schools.
The Mayor has decided and is moving forward with the reversal of the implementation of the Court's decision. We call on Mayor de Blasio to outline his plan to ensure organizations, like these and others out there, would not be allowed to use public government property to spread hate under the guise of religious worship.