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January 13th, 2012
10:07 PM ET

Pastors protest New York ban on religious services

By Vivienne Foley, CNN

New York (CNN) -
Pastors and their congregants took to the streets of New York on Thursday to protest and to pray for Mayor Michael Bloomberg to reverse a ban on religious groups' use of public schools for worship service, scheduled to go into effect February 12.

"Throughout our history, schools have been used for all kinds of community service, including church service. Why, all of a sudden, they want to make it a crime?" asked Pastor Peter Kemp of Hope Chapel Church.

More than 200 people attended the protest outside a Bronx public school where Bloomberg was giving his annual State of the City address.

For two hours, protesters sang hymns, prayed and chanted "Freedom of worship!" while holding signs reading "Save the Church, Save the Community!" and "Closing Churches Embarrasses NYC!"

Pastor Jon Storck of Grace Fellowship Church said, "It's not just for us. It's for our communities that we minister in. We offer so much in the neighborhood, and we offer so much to the school that we meet in. The school doesn't want us to leave."

Storck was arrested for disorderly conduct along with 43 other people who linked arms in groups of five and left the secure, barricaded area to pray on the street, ignoring police warnings.

Jeremy Del Rio of 20/20 Vision for Schools believes that the ban will hurt low-income communities where most of the 68 congregations affected by the ban are located. "Mayor Bloomberg believes that children in New York City can't tell the difference between the church that rents the building on Sundays and the academic instruction that takes place Monday through Friday. New York is smarter than that. Our children are smarter than that. They know the difference."

The mayor's office declined comment.

The Department of Education announced the ban in December after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on a lower court decision that the state of New York has the right to ban religious groups from using public property.

Jordan Lorence, an attorney from the Alliance Defense Fund, which has been fighting the policy for two decades, said that all legal avenues had been exhausted and that the only way to stop the ban was for Bloomberg to use his executive authority to change the Board of Education policy and allow religious groups to rent space in public schools.

"We benefit the community. Why can't we meet like everybody else? Why do you think that empty school buildings are better than having churches that are helping poor people that are helping people get off drugs, get out of crime and tutoring students of all faiths?"

David Garcia, a former gang member who now Ministers at the House of Worship Christian Center, believes that troubled kids will be the ones most hurt by the ban: "In schools there's a lot of violence going on. There's a lot of killing. Gang slayings and all of that. And we are trying to make a difference in the schools. If they open the doors to other people to borrow the schools, why can't they lend the schools to the churches?"

On behalf of the Department of Education, the New York Law Department provided a statement defending the policy: "We view this as a victory for the City's school children and their families. The Department was quite properly concerned about having any school in this diverse City identified with one particular religious belief or practice."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Church and state

soundoff (381 Responses)
  1. camaro performance parts

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    May 17, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  2. Dance Music

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    May 13, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  3. FredK

    Bloomburg is an idiot, unfortunately there are a lot of idiots in NYC that support him and his off the wall ideas...

    March 8, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  4. RAYMOND

    THAT IS VERY HARD FOR ME TO BELIEVE WITH ALL THE JEWISH PEOPLE THERE...WHEN I LIVED THERE WE WOULD START OUR DAY WITH THE PLEDGE OF THE FLAG AND THEN HAVE PRAYER,,,,,I DON'T KNOW BUT IT MADE ME FEEL GOOD.

    March 8, 2012 at 2:30 am |
  5. dinak

    Bloomberg: Per U.S. Bill of Rights: the government may not prohibit the free expression of religion – what do u not get about that? The gov't may not ESTABLISH a specific religion and force us to practice it, but the gov't has zero authority to stop the free, non-aggressive practice of it.

    March 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Taroya

      Why can't these religions use THEIR churches?

      BS. This is nothing more than still another attempt to shove somebody else's religion down someone else's throat.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • brilliant

      @dinak,

      Can you point out where in the Bill of Rights it states that the government must furnish, at reasonable cost, space for said free expression? I guess I missed that part.

      March 8, 2012 at 2:34 am |
  6. Flashfreeze

    Reading about Supreme Court cases in the past about these issues... The school CAN allow religious organization to use there facilites as long as they allow ALL religious groups the same opprotunity. Otherwise the schools could inact a rule to not allow any organizations to use there facilities. No organizations allowed in, no discrimination.

    I myself personally do not agree with religious organizations using there facilities. But I do see that many schools are hurting for funding. Every little bit helps our childrens education.

    February 20, 2012 at 7:41 am |
  7. Ron B

    Will they think it;s great if the Muslims decide they want to have their worship in those same schools?

    February 19, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      No, this decision is for all religious activities. Frankly I do not see any problem allowing the space to be used after school and I am a staunch believer in separation of church and state.

      March 8, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  8. Glades2

    If they are going to do that, then they must ban school use for gang related issues, for LGBT issues, etc – or do they believe those to be acceptable?

    February 13, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • max

      apples and oranges. how can you even come up with such a comparison?

      February 14, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  9. momoya

    Strangerspeaks has it correct. It's not about the "good" that the religious do, it's about representation. If the schools only represent one type of faith then it's a violation of the separation of church and state. Those who argue for church presence in the school should consider what they might feel if the church in question espoused opinions with which they disagree. If you want churches to use school buildings, then you have to be "for" some weird satanic church just as much as you are "for" a run-of-the-mill church.

    February 7, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Eh

      I personally think a law stating that all faiths must not be descriminating against when renting public facilities to assemble, would better suit the freedom of religion. That way you're actually pushing freedom of religion rather than condemnation of a specific religion. I am of Protestant background and I have no qualms with Jewish, Mulsim, Scientogist, Athiest etc. being on equal footing. I have a serious problem when they try to restrain any one of us from assembly.

      February 10, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • max

      the moonies can rent and preach to the kids that ask for donations at school the next day. very efficient. how about we let one of the pot smoking religions have a shot? they should get equal time too, right?

      February 14, 2012 at 12:58 am |
    • MarkinFL

      If one religious group is allowed then all must be allowed. No big deal. As long as they behave in a legal manner, who cares?
      I do not see the big deal in allowing religious orgs to use the space after school. I'm an atheist and believe in keeping religion out of gov't. But this is no big deal at all.

      March 8, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  10. jn0224

    Why is religion so scary to some? In America, no group can "force" you to believe anything...in Christianity, Hinduism, Global Warming, Vegetarianism....I've never understood why some are so leery of the exchange of ideas. I'm not a Jehovah's Witness, but I've had great conversations when they come knocking. I'm not offended by their strongly held beliefs.

    February 5, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • burnz

      If someone has crazy belief/ideas, it is harder to trust them and take them seriously.

      February 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  11. El Flaco

    Christianity has many wonderful accomplishments, but its time is in the past. There ain't no Old Yahweh watching us from behind the clouds. Jesus was a real man, but he was not a Christian. He was a Jew who was mostly concerned with the corruption of the King of Israel and the presence of Roman soldiers on the holy soil of Israel. Jesus was real, but he wasn't the Christ.

    The Christ was an invention of the Council of Nicea, who chose to make sense out of the Christian tradition by selecting books for the new Bible that endorsed the concept of Christ. Generations of theologians devoted their lives to making sense out of nonsense, and Christianity was born. Love thy neighbor. Treat others as you would be treated. Every man is your brother and every woman is your sister. How wonderful!

    The time of religions is over. They are dying, slowly, but dying. The sooner the better.

    February 3, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • stage9

      According to whom?

      In order for you to say that there is no God, you would have to have infinite knowledge of the universe. But if you had infinite knowledge of the universe, that would make YOU God. But according to your own admission God does not exist, therefore YOU do not exist! Since YOU, god, do not exist, you have said absolutely nothing.

      February 7, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • TAK

      Stage9- Did you drop out of Logic & Argument class after 1 week?

      February 10, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  12. dave

    Christians started the first public schools in the USA. I have a very old book called "The New England Primer" it was made by Christians as a teaching aid in the first schools. Before this education was limited to the rich who could afford a tutor. Christians leveled the playing field and gave everyone a chance to make a great career. In the early School text books there were Bible verses throughout. Look up history and you will be enlightened. The first book ever printed on a press was the Gutenburg Bible with the ambition to get a Bible in everyone's hands, the first printing press was invented by a Christian named Gutenburg.

    What is the word for this? Irony?

    January 27, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • Timmy

      Hooray! It's nice to see people give an educated response to subjects, instead of the usual rant and rave. Only if more people studied history!

      January 28, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Lee

      Another thing people don't realize is that Christians began the first societies to aid the disabled, because they felt even those that were blind and deaf and such should be able to read the Bible, which was the first primer for almost all schools. They also began social movements like Emancipation from slavery, which started in the New England Churches. Many don't realize the the beliefs that started our own revolution first were crystalized in the pulpits of NE Churches. Heck, even PBS ran a special on Calvin, the "Founder of American Democracy."

      Most people who make sweeping generalizations about how repressive Christianity is have no idea what it is, what it stands for, and how it has changed history in a positive manner. Tyrants who try to subdue Christian nations cannot keep them in hand – there is way too much an emphasis on personal freedom and having the conscience responsible to God alone, not a controlled state. Just look at China – the more Christian it gets, the freer it gets. And churches are the first things tyrants try to destroy. There is a reason for it.

      January 29, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • max

      of course the kkk was supported by the southern white churches. the spaniards forcefully converted the jews to catholicism. the church has also promoted a "white is right" mentality by whitewashing the fact that adam and eve, if they were more than a fable, would have been black.

      its hard to get too worked up over a church service off-hours at a school, if they pay market rate (think so?) for the rental, but lets not pretend that religion is above reproach and all wonderful

      pur government does enough to subsidize religion in america already.

      February 14, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • Taroya

      Gave everyone a level playing field?

      Tell that to the Indians that have lost their language and traditions because the Christians considered them heathen, and went out of their way to kill them, all in the name of GOD.

      Love thy neighbor is nothing but lip service. Judge not lest ye be judged also is completely ignored, along with its sister verse that it is not yours to judge, but God's.

      I have never encountered a single Christian, Muslim, or Jew that actually followed their religion. Never.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • kamana kapu

      The chinese had printing presses, books, libraries and book stores long before Gutenberg developed his method.

      March 18, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  13. strangerspeaks

    @Sparknut: The inverse is also true, if you allow one religion or group to use your facilities, you must allow all. If you allow Christian churches to rent space in a school Sunday morning, then the Church of Satan has just as much right to rent that space on Saturday night. I wonder if those who support allowing churches to use school facilities would feel so strongly about it if it were the Westboro church, with there message of hate and intolerance that wanted to use the space. I feel for the organizations that will lose ground in areas where they were doing so much good, but one must consider how public spaces work and the precedents we set.

    January 27, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  14. Chris

    Christians weep & protest not,remember the prophecy, the wicked & the world wil become worst and worst. This world is not our hope, it is not worth vying for for God is going to destroy it one day bcos of its wickednes, remember! All this and that ban on christian act of services is the way of continuity in more evil. Christianity is the only group that is conforms wit good morals, anything short of this good is not from God, take it or leave it.

    January 27, 2012 at 5:12 am |
    • Stuck in the Middle

      If "this world is not your hope" then kindly refrain from your incessant attempts to force the rest of to believe as you do.

      January 27, 2012 at 7:55 am |
  15. kayscullion

    School is no place for religion. religion in itself is very repressive, especially since your opinions are shaped by your church and not your own mind. If the church/religious group were to become affiliated with the school then, children/teens of other religions would feel uncomfortable. That would also leave it open for other children/teens to bully those of other religions on the basis of "converting them". This is a terrible idea to mix school and religion. The school is a place where people develop there opinions and become who they are... The situations in schools are already strained, adding the church to it would make it so much worse.

    January 26, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • dinak

      these are after-school programs. By the way, if teachers stopped "preaching" the religion of liberalism, then there would be more time for learning actually important material.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  16. GeorgeH

    Public schools are no place for religious services. What happens is that the schools invariably become identified with the religion. I live in a state where schools often host religious services. The signs at the school entrances are very offensive to people of other faiths and especially to non-believers. Let's keep religion out of our government, as the Founders intended.

    January 25, 2012 at 1:07 am |
  17. asdf

    Even as an Atheist, I have a problem with this. I wish CNN were able to get some commentary to explain why the city did it. Who cares if the schools are being used as churches on Sunday, as long as they're paying rent?

    January 24, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • GeorgeH

      In real life what happens is that the religious group becomes identified with the school, which appears to be promoting that brand of religion. Mixing public schools and religion is just a bad idea, as it leads to all sorts of complications.

      January 25, 2012 at 1:11 am |
    • mxb95

      Without intending any any disrespect to your contention, I wonder how the use of a school building by a religious group at a time or day when students and teachers are not using it is likely to result in a situation in which the 'religious group becomes identified with the school, which appears to be promoting that brand of religion'.

      If the policy is that any group that pays a fee can use the school building, the fact that a single (religious) group chooses to avail itself of that use – in exchange for the payment of the fee – should not imply promotion by the school of the religion. A different result should obtain if the city were to give preference to religious uses, or waive the fee for use of the facility by a religious group, but that does not seem to be the case here. Where all groups, religious or not, have the same ability to use the property, no bias in favour or against, is apparent. By analog, If a religious group holds an event or service at a hotel or convention centre, in return for its paying a fee, should one then think that the hotel or convention centre is 'promoting that brand of religion'? The answer seems a resounding no.

      January 27, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  18. frespech

    Ban the pledge of allegiance-One nation under God-Not so.

    January 24, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  19. sparknut

    Simple: no community groups are allowed to use schools.
    You can't ban a group on the basis of religion. Ban churches, then ban all groups.

    January 22, 2012 at 7:16 am |
    • playa79

      I agree with sparknut and mxb95. The schools aren't identifying with any particular religion or creed, they are simply renting out their facilities when the schools are not in academic use. If the Girl Scouts, the Masons or the United Steelworkers Union or whatever wanted to rent an auditorium on a Saturday night, no one would claim that the school was "preferring" or being identified with unions or other organizations. Why should churches be treated differently? The First Amendment protects religious groups from being singled out. The law (to be equitable) ought to ban ALL organizations from using the schools. In addition, in a time when so many school districts are hurting for funding, it seems myopic and self-defeating to cut off the revenue stream of renting facilities out when they are otherwise unoccupied. Are there other groups stepping up to rent out the schools when all the Christians are kicked out?

      February 5, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • jn0224

      Makes sense to me...can't descriminate on the basis of religion.

      February 5, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      I also cannot see any real conflict caused by allowing religious groups to use the space like any other community group. I am a VERY strong believer in the separation of church and state ( and I mean VERY ), yet I do not see how this should be a problem. !st amendment is for everyone.

      March 8, 2012 at 10:40 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.