Some 3,500 people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall Park Sunday in protest of the ban on churches renting New York City's public schools on the weekends.
Council Member Fernando Cabrera, who is also a pastor, led the march, along with religious leaders and elected officials from the area, in efforts to urge Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Department of Education to reverse the policy that will – beginning on Feb. 12 – evict churches meeting at public schools.
Cabrera told The Christian Post that the ban will force about 68 churches that hold weekly services to relocate. It will also affect another 100 churches that rent space on and off throughout the city.
Rents in New York are expensive and suitable space is limited. Cabrera said he knows of only one church that has been able to find a new place to meet.
The ban, he pointed out, affects mostly small churches.
"I've been very disappointed with those who call themselves 'fathers' in the city who have megachurches and have not stepped up. They have not been to one of the press conferences, not one of the rallies," he told CP. "Here is the question: Are they losing the prophetic voice? This is a frontal attack. We're not talking about a social issue, were talking about a frontal attack toward churches. Where are they?"
If some of the bigger churches like Redeemer Presbyterian Church, The Christian Cultural Center, Brooklyn Tabernacle and Ebenezer Baptist Church step in to help out, they could easily have 20,000 people protesting, and the issue would be over by now, Cabrera stated.
He stressed that the ban not only has implications for churches in New York City, but also across the nation. What happens in the Big Apple tends to get "replicated throughout the nation," he explained, and policies like the school ban can "spread like a virus" to other states and districts. New York is the only state in the nation that has put this policy in place, according to Cabrera.
The debate over the ban started back in December when a small church, the Bronx Household of Faith, which was using a public school to hold services, lost a 16-year legal battle with the city of New York.
The city had been trying to evict the church, but the Household of Faith was protected by an injunction that allowed houses of worship to continue using spaces in the city.
Last June, a federal appeals court decided to uphold the city's policy and remove the injunction. Following the removal, the Supreme Court was asked to hear the case but refused in December, leaving the summer ruling to stand.
City officials say the ban will keep a separation between church and state, but opponents argue it's discrimination.
Cabrera said in a released statement, "Equal access for Houses of Worship makes New York City communities better. Mayor Bloomberg and the Department of Education need to see just how many people are on this side of the debate."
The fight isn't over yet either. A new bill, Assembly Bill A8800, has been introduced and would prevent school districts from excluding groups from meeting on school property because of religious content or the viewpoints of the speech featured in the meetings. Sunday's marchers urged, in part, legislative action to pass A8800.
Speakers at the march included affected pastors, as well as citywide elected officials, city council members, state senate and state assembly members.