Pastors Protest School Worship Ban

Some New York City pastors are protesting the Board of Education's ban on worship in public school space as the ban threatens to spread beyond schools.

Change Your Seat! for urban faith

Pastors were among those arrested in New York City Thursday as they protested the city Board of Education’s ban on religious groups using public school space for worship, The New York Times reported.

In December, UrbanFaith talked to two sources about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear a Bronx church’s appeal of a lower court ruling that affirmed the ban. The Supreme Court’s decision was a catalyst for this protest.

“It’s just crazy that they’re forcing the churches to leave in six weeks,” Democratic councilman and pastor Fernando Cabrera told the Associated Press after he and the others were arrested for trespassing at the city’s Department of Law in Manhattan. “They should absolutely allow the houses of worship to continue doing what they are doing. It has never negatively affected anyone.”

Rev. Bill Devlin of Manhattan Bible Church was taken into custody with Cabrera, according to WORLD Magazine, as was Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) pastor Rev. Michael Carrion, ECC reported on its website.

“The protestors fear that the city will use the same separation of church and state rationale to evict churches from all public buildings. The New York City Housing Authority already has said it is reconsidering allowing churches to meet in buildings it oversees,” the ECC article said.

“Over the Christmas holidays, several local directors of facilities of the New York City Housing Authority notified religious groups, mostly Christian churches, that they could no longer rent community rooms and other facilities. NYCHA officials gave little or no warning of the change of policy and did most of their communicating with the religious groups through word of mouth or email,” Tony Carnes reported at A Journey Through NYC Religions.

“One director of a Manhattan community center at a public housing project sent the administrator of Manhattan Borough Community Operations a copy of the newspaper article about the case. The implied question was, what should I do? The administrator emailed back, ‘NYCHA will not be able to rent to Churches based on a recent circumstance. Our Apologies,’” Carnes wrote.

Echoing sentiments author and NYC public school parent Katherine Stewart shared with us, Sheila Stainback, a spokeswoman for NYCHA, told PolitickerNY that no one had been evicted because none of the churches who used their facilities had leases. “That language would be incorrect,” said Stainback.

Cabrera called foul on this interpretation of the situation, however, noting that one church had been worshiping in the same public space for six years.

“We are getting the perception that we have an anti-religion mayor,” Cabrera told PolitickerNY. “I have never been arrested for anything. I don’t even drink beer. This is how desperate I am.”

“Not only is it unconstitutional, but on a very practical level we have partnered with our community and our school to serve our children, mentor and we also pay rent,” Rev. Rick Del Rio, pastor of Abounding Grace Ministries, told The Christian Post.

Del Rio attended the rally, but was not arrested. In a note on his Facebook wall, Del Rio said, “When we consider Jesus and all His confrontations and ultimate death, to the disciples and their witness that was turning the world upside down and their courage to stand and ‘Speak’ and ‘DO’ what they knew was true, always at the risk of peril, why should we be so non-confrontational. And what of the examples of Wlberforce and Martin Luther King. … What I saw last Thursday were believers who chose to take a stand, raise their voices and speak truth to power, challenging the authorities to do the right thing and staking their claim to what is rightfully theirs as tax paying citizens of the US and NYC.”

What do you think?

Should Christians protest their eviction from public space or submit to it quietly as Rev. Sam Andreades suggested when UrbanFaith spoke to him?

About the author, Christine A. Scheller

Christine A. Scheller is a widely published journalist and essayist, and an editor-at-large at UrbanFaith. She lives with her husband at the Jersey Shore and in Washington, DC, where she helps facilitate dialogue between scientific and religious communities.

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