Manhattan-based pastor Bill Devlin is a fighter. In the past few months he has led protests and prayer vigils, been arrested, and is now on day 41 of a water-only fast in attempts to reverse the New York City ban on religious groups renting space in public schools.
Devlin, 59, of Manhattan Bible Church in Washington Heights, hasn't eaten any food and has only had tap water to drink since he began his protest on Jan. 17. The 5-foot-11-inch tall pastor dropped about 52 pounds from approximately 190 pounds, and he has no idea when his fast might end.
He has been relentless in his mission to reverse the city's decision. "As a pastor and a faith leader, I've prayed that God would soften the hearts of Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Walcott," he said.
He told The Christian Post he is going to continue his fast until there is more clarity on the matter. "This is the Lord's doing, the Lord is sustaining me," he said.
Devlin is doing the biblical fast because he contends that the ban on worship services at public schools on the weekends unfairly impacts poor communities that have little funds with which to rent space. He added that religious groups often turn to public schools, where rent can be half the price of neighboring for-profit rental options.
"I made a decision that I would go on a water-only fast in order to let city and elected officials know that this is a very serious issue evicting good people, predominantly poor people in communities of color that are doing good in those communities," he said. "If they are allowed to move forward with this ban, I foresee a grim, dark future for the city, one where many of these house of worships will cease to exist."
U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska issued a 10-day temporary order blocking the city's ban on the use of public schools for worship services earlier this month, but a federal appeals court later said that decision only applied to the Bronx Household of Faith church in University Heights. More than 60 houses of worship were forced to find other places to hold their services this month.
Last Friday, Preska granted a preliminary injunction against the city's ban, allowing the other churches to continue worshipping at the schools as the legal battle continues.
Supporters of the ban say the city should continue to uphold a clear separation of church and state by removing religious groups from city-funded public schools.
The mayor and Department of Education have not changed their stance against allowing religious organizations to rent space inside of schools since the Supreme Court rejected Bronx Household of Faith's request to overturn the ban.
Churchgoers are seeking either a reversal or support from legislators. The state Assembly currently has a bill that would give religious institutions the same right to meet in public schools as non-religious groups.
"They have nowhere to go now," Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera said in a written statement earlier. "What is better, having religious groups out on sidewalks and inside parks, or having them pay the city to meet inside empty school buildings?"