Electeds Protest Mayor's Ban on Religious Institutions Using Public School Space

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Sam Levin
Protesters earlier this month speaking out against Bloomberg's plan to ban religious institutions from public schools
They're back! And a bit louder this time.

Elected officials and religious leaders rallied yesterday to protest Mayor Mike Bloomberg's ban on religious institutions using public school space. Runnin' Scared last saw them in the pouring rain earlier this month, making a scene outside of Bloomberg's State of the City speech in the Bronx.

We didn't get a chance to get in on the fun yesterday but chatted this morning with a representative from the office of City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who has been a leader in the the campaign against this policy. Apparently, more than 2,000 marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to call on the mayor to allow religious institutions to stay in school -- a definite jump from the hundred or so we saw on that rainy day weeks ago.

The issue centers on a ruling last June by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that says the city can bar any religious worship in schools because it appears to promote a particular faith.

The stakes are high for the protesters, some who claim they will have nowhere to run programs and worship services if they are evicted from Department of Education spaces. The policy is supposed to go into effect February 12.

Last week, Bloomberg, at a press conference about Gossip Girl (yup), indirectly discussed the issue when he was being grilled about the continuing controversy surrounding the NYPD's showing of an anti-Muslim video.

Going off on a bit of a tangent, he said, "The more religious you are, the more important it is that we protect other religions and make sure that we don't have religions getting mixed up with government. The separation of church and state is one of the basics of our federal government and our rights and . . . we've worked very hard to always maintain that. Sometimes, it's tempting to say, well this one time we'll mix. You should not do that. The more you care about religion, the more we want to keep it separate." (He said this in the context of a discussion about how the NYPD should respond to the showing of a film called The Third Jihad and was not talking about the school space controversy.)

"We stand firm on our position," Councilman Cabrera said in a release sent out yesterday. "Equal access for Houses of Worship makes New York City communities better. Mayor Bloomberg and the Department of Education need to see just how many people are on this side of the debate."

Cabrera was arrested the first week of 2012 for protesting this issue.

The rally yesterday had support from around 10 electeds, including mayoral hopefuls -- and somewhat regular Bloomberg critics -- Comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. Dozens of religious leaders also attended and spoke out.

We also saw a provocative tweet from City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who wrote, "My belief is if the #KKK can rent #schools during off hours, #housesofworship should also be allowed." He was responding to a tweet from a religious leader who said he did not think worship should take place inside public school property.

In response to another tweet asking Williams to clarify his KKK remark, the councilman said, "#LOL. No...the #KKK hasn't met in #NYC #schools. I mentioned it because legally they can, while #housesofworship currently cannot."

[SamTLevin / @SamTLevin]

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