Churches Prepare for Eviction from School Spaces; Mayor Says He's Not Backing Down
Next Sunday, Pastor Sal Sabino, from Heavenly Vision Christian Center, will conduct his worship services on the street.
That's because this coming Sunday is the last time he and his congregation can use the church's current location -- I.S. 52, a public school in upper Manhattan.
Last month, we wrote about the battle between church groups and the city as Mayor Mike Bloomberg has pushed a policy to stop allowing churches to use school space. The loud protestors bugged Bloomberg in the rain outside his State of the City speech and marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to bring attention to the issue. And the New York Civil Liberties Unionsupported the city in this effort, arguing that these kinds of arrangements between religious organizations and the Dept. of Education turn schools into churches every Sunday and violate the principle of separation of church and state.
Bloomberg is following through with a Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last June that said the city could "bar any religious worship in the schools because it appears to promote a particular faith."
Critics of this move argue that religious groups pay rent just like any other tenant, do not discriminate against others, and provide important community institutions in neighborhoods that need them.
After all the drama, the deadline has arrived. After this Sunday, these church groups will no longer be allowed to use school space.
Runnin' Scared caught up with Pastor Sabino at a press conference on a different topic this afternoon to hear his thoughts on the looming deadline. He is still praying, he told us, that Bloomberg will change his mind.
"Next Sunday, we don't have a place. We will celebrate our service right in the street," said Sabino, who has been using school spaces for the past eight years or so. "We are going to celebrate it right in front of the school...We cannot stop worshiping the Lord...That's what I'm going to tell them. Next week, we're going to have to worship outside."
"We think that Mayor Bloomberg is totally wrong about it," he said, adding that his church has helped address local gang problems by recruiting gang members to attend services.
"It looks like the church is facing extinction, because my survey proves that they don't want to be moved over to the Bronx. They want to be placed here in the city," he said. (His church has a location in the Bronx, but more than 300 worship in the school space in Manhattan, he said).
This week, the political drama around this issue reached a new height when the State Senate passed a bill Monday that would allow churches to continue renting space in schools. The State Assembly is currently in the process of drafting similar legislation.
Religious leaders have called on Bloomberg to at least hold off the evictions while Albany considers this kind of legislation.
"I think that he should pause and let the legislature do that," Sabino said. "I think that he should let them decide. He's only one person. That's why in this country we have checks and balances."
"I still believe in God that Mayor Bloomberg is going to change his mind," he said. "We are praying."
On his weekly radio show this morning on WOR, Bloomberg said he is not changing his mind.
"Separation of church and state is one of the basics of our country...The more religious you are, I think the more you should want to keep the separation because someday the religion that the state picks as the 'state religion' might not be yours. The way to solve that is to not have a state religion," he said.
Bloomberg also brushed aside a question about the movement in Albany to reverse this, saying, "I don't know what's going to happen in Albany. I can just tell you what's happening here. This is the last Sunday that these religious organizations will be able to have worship services in the schools. We're not trying to take away their ability to use public property for other kinds of activities. But where they have services, and a cynic would say, 'How would you define what a service is,' but that not withstanding, the courts have ruled...that there are real constitutional concerns here. I have real concerns."