Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pastors Booted from NYC Schools, then Arrested

Four pastors, including a member of [New York] City Council, were among seven men arrested Thursday morning in front of the city Law Department during a protest of the city’s ban on allowing churches to hold worship services in public school buildings, the police and organizers said.

UPDATE 1/12/12: Pastors protest Mayor Bloomberg

UPDATE 4/8/14: Mayor de Blasio OKs churches in schools, but only after court rules against the churches.

-- From "Clergymen in Cuffs as Protesters Are Arrested" by Andy Newman, New York Times 1/5/12

All those arrested were charged with trespassing, including Councilman Fernando Cabrera, a Democrat who leads a church in the Bronx. About 20 demonstrators gathered in front of the Law Department’s headquarters at 100 Church Street to protest the policy, and after about an hour, seven of them sat down in front of the building and refused to leave until they were arrested, the police said.

The city’s policy on worship services in school buildings emerged intact last month when the United States Supreme Court declined to review a lower court’s decision in a suit brought by a small Bronx evangelical church that has been holding its Sunday services at Public School 15 since 2002.

As the case made its way through the system, the city’s ban was put on hold, and some 160 congregations used school buildings for worship services last school year. They have been given a Feb. 12 deadline to leave the schools.

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From "Pastors, Lawmakers Protest Ban on Worship in School Buildings" by The Associated Press 1/5/12

"It's just crazy that they're forcing the churches to leave in six weeks," Councilman Fernando Cabrera said after he was handcuffed, booked on a trespass charge and released. "They should absolutely allow the houses of worship to continue doing what they are doing. It has never negatively affected anyone."

Jordan Lorence, a lawyer for two of the affected churches, said 25 to 30 people were at the protest.

"The reason they made this public demonstration today was to draw attention to the Department of Education's policy and the contemplated expansion of this policy," he said. "They believe this is an infringement on religious liberty."

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From "City: Churches Can Use Public Spaces" By Tamer El-Ghobashy, Wall Street Journal 1/5/12

A court decision that upheld New York City's right to bar worship services at public schools won't be used to deny churches access to other government facilities such as public housing developments, city officials said Thursday.

The question over small congregations' use of public housing facilities was raised when the New York City Housing Authority informed five churches that their temporary agreements to rent space were being reviewed after they expired on Dec. 31.

It culminated Thursday when a group of pastors, joined by Bronx City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, was arrested during a small protest at the headquarters of the New York City Law Department in Lower Manhattan. The group said it was opposing what it called an effort to "evict" houses of worship from city-owned properties.

. . . Jane L. Gordon, senior counsel at the Law Department, said there "is absolutely no connection" between the education department and NYCHA policies.

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From "After Protests and Arrests, NYCHA Extends Agreements With Bronx Churches (For Now)" by Alex Kratz, Norwood News 1/9/12

Following demonstrations that led to the arrests of seven people last week, including Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera, the New York City Housing Authority agreed to extend rental agreements with two Bronx churches who worship in city-owned buildings.

The churches — Bronx Bible Church at the Justice Sonia Sotomayor Houses and Infinity New York Church at the Bronx River Houses — will be allowed to continue renting space at the facilities until at least Feb. 26 while NYCHA completes its comprehensive review of all of its rental agreements with organizations.

“This is a great victory,” said Cabrera in a statement. “But the fight isn’t over and more rallies are being planned. We will continue to call on Mayor Bloomberg to lift the ban on Houses of Worship from meeting in public schools. I hope Mayor Bloomberg will follow the example of NYCHA’s and allow Houses of Worship to continue to meet in New York City Public Schools without restriction based on content.”

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