NEW YORK – Dimas Salaberrios, pastor of Infinity Church that is being forced to leave the Bronx River Community Center next month, was arrested while rallying against the eviction at the New York Department of Law on Thursday.
Salaberrios, who is also fasting to counteract the eviction mandate, said he is willing to fight against city officials, who he feels are targeting churches.
“New York City law department is working on getting rid of churches from community centers. Now they're targeting us,” Salaberrios told The Christian Post the day before his arrest. “All together this will mean 17,000 people will be out of their church homes in less than a month in a half.”
Jordan Lorence, senior counselor for the Alliance Defense Fund, has been working to help the displaced churches maintain their legal rights to worship in community centers. ADF was a part of the Bronx Household of Faith lawsuit against the Department of Education in New York City.
The lawsuit stems from a battle with the NYC DOE that has been taking place for 16 years. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, thus allowing the ban of churches from schools to stand.
Kate O’Brien Ahlers, media and communications director at the New York City Department of Law, confirmed that the court saw nothing wrong with the DOE’s policies.
“The Court wrote that the DOE's policy imposes ‘no restraint on the free expression of any point of view,'” Ahlers said. “Expression of all points of view is permitted. The exclusion applies only to the conduct of a certain type of activity – the conduct of worship services – and not to the free expression of religious views associated with it.”
Although the demonstration on Thursday focused more on worship in community centers than schools, Lorence said the issues were one and the same.
“What’s happening here is that the city government is interpreting the court order dealing in the public schools of New York, to be an all-purpose permission slip to throw out the churches in the public building where they allow private groups to meet,” he said.
However, the Rev. Richard Del Rio, pastor of Abounding Grace Ministries that has operated out of a New York City school, told The Christian Post that the government’s stance on both issues are wrong.
“Not only is it unconstitutional, but on a very practical level we have partnered with our community and our school to serve our children, mentor and we also pay rent,” said Del Rio, who also participated in the prayer rally on Thursday. “To think that as a school or church that really works within the community and affects the kids that they could just take a strategic partnership like that and just throw it out the window, it's pretty offensive.”
Bill Devlin, pastor of Manhattan Bible Church, also expressed his offense at the rally on Thursday. Although his church has not been displaced by city officials, he was willing to get arrested for the cause he believes in.
“We have our own property but we're here standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are getting kicked out,” Devlin told CP before his arrest on Thursday. “This is the increased secularization of the culture here in New York City."
The churches located in community centers will be mandated to move on Feb. 12, and until then Dimas and supporters have said more rallies will take place. The pastor said he will not stop until God moves the position of city officials on the matter.
“This is a prayer gathering for God to move and change the decision of the NYC law department and all the leadership that’s high ranking above them that are deciding to persecute the church, kick churches out (and) evict poor communities of their pastors,” Dimas said. “We’re here standing (and) praying..I'm on a hunger strike on this and we will continue until the end. They need to understand that pastors will lay down their lives for their sheep, and they will get that message before this is all over."