While Mayor Bloomberg addressed New York City from within Morris High School in the Bronx, opponents of the Mayor’s determination to terminate worship services in public school space provided their arguments at a prayer rally outside.
Supporters of the churches have already rounded up a majority of the city council to support Member Fernando Cabrera’s city resolution to allow religious groups to continue meeting in public school spaces. Cabrera said on Thursday, “The challenge now is for Speaker Silver and Speaker Skelos to allow the bill to come to the floor, that is the bottom line right now.” Many people in New York's religious community feel the bill is a protection of religious rights. Cabrera said, “We're asking for religious equality, the same equalities afforded to us by the Constitution of the United States, the freedom of gathering, freedom of speech, the freedom of religion in public spaces. That’s the part of it people miss.”
Video from Pastor Michael Carrion under arrest at NYPD's 41st Precinct Station:
Many of the demonstrators outside the high school fear the immediate threat of losing their place of worship. Members of the Heavenly Vision Christian Center held up signs saying, “Don't make my church homeless.” The church currently holds Sunday Services at Walton High School in the Kingsbridge area near Lehman College. The congregants don’t understand why they are being pushed out. Yafraida Encarnacion, a member of the church, said “We don't do anything, but help.” She thought losing their worship space would also likely impact Pastor Salvador Sabino's highly effective work with gang members in the community. (Sabino is an ex-gang member and has built a network of churches to bring other gangsters out of “the life.”)
While the protesters were largely Hispanic Christians, speakers at the rally point out that the implications of the city’s policy goes much further. City Council Member David Greenfield said, “It’s a basic matter of fairness and freedom. Regardless of their religious beliefs they should have access to public spaces.” He pointed out that Jews and Muslims also have concerns that religious discrimination will spread to them. Even now, Jews are facing a rash of arson attacks against their organizations in New Jersey.
Bronx State Senator Ruben Diaz, who protested along other members of the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization, argued on the basis of practicality. He said, “Churches pay, nothing is free, and the city needs the money. We are using the auditorium when the school is not in service, so why the persecution?”
For the last couple of years churches have worked as partners with many city public schools. Jeremy Del Rio of 20/20 Vision warned that the churches cannot let the conflict with the city government to reduce their focus on the important role that churches are playing in sustaining and improving their communities. “The biggest challenge is that we have reduced the relationship between churches and schools to a landlord tenant relationship. We're not just tenants in buildings, but were partners in the transformation of our schools.”
Video of Rev. Ralph Castillo talking about 20/20 Vision's and Christ Tabernacle's Operation Backpack for public school children in Queens: