January 13th, 2012
10:07 PM ET
By Vivienne Foley, CNN
"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."
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