NYC Pastor Ends 42-Day Fast Against Worship Ban in Schools

After 42 days of eating no food to protest the ban on worship services at New York City's public schools, Pastor Bill Devlin, senior minister at Manhattan Bible Church, finally ended his fast this week.

Devlin, who dropped over 50 pounds, told The Christian Post that it felt great to finally be able to eat something even though it only consisted of dried cornflakes and a small amount of applesauce. "During the fast, I was also able to identify with the poor, the weak and the meek."

He began back in January to raise awareness and pray for New York City churches that were banned from holding worship services in public school buildings on the weekends.

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The pastor attributes his fast and the efforts of many people's prayers to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals' favorable ruling on Wednesday stating that NYC churches can hold services in school buildings, at least until June. The court denied a request from the city government to enforce the worship ban while a judge decides on the case.

Wednesday's ruling came days after Judge Loretta A. Preska, who is hearing the case, issued an injunction last Friday allowing the churches to continue renting space at schools while the lawsuit against the ban continues.

Members of the 60 or so NYC churches who have been facing eviction are very encouraged by Wednesday's ruling and Devlin said they are "praising God for His goodness" and are "humbled by God's grace, love, and mercy as we have fought this battle with weapons of the Spirit."

The eviction of churches in New York City has made international news and has been called "a monstrosity of religious intolerance" by MSNBC's Martin Bashir for striking down equal access to those who help the poor communities the most.

The courts will hear different arguments in the coming months from the church that has been at the heart of the battle – Bronx Household of Faith.

The debate over the ban started back in December when the Bronx church lost a 17-year legal battle with the city of New York which had been trying to evict the church from using a public school space for worship.

The church was previously protected by an injunction that allowed houses of worship to continue using schools, but 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. The ban went into effect on Feb. 12.

Hundreds of churches and congregations have held protests outside schools, City Hall, and the Department of Law against the ban.

Devlin has been a part of those protests from the beginning and started his water-only fast at midnight Jan. 17. He was determined to continue his hunger strike until Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott reversed their decision on evicting houses of worship from education buildings.

He said that the whole purpose was to "ask God to soften the hearts of Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Walcott. The churches that these men are making homeless are the salt and light of the poor communities in which they serve."

He told CP that others are continuing to fast for the NYC churches and he has heard from people in China, Cuba and others in the U.S. who are carrying on the fast for him.

Devlin is the senior pastor of one of the largest congregations in Northern Manhattan. The church also operates a K-8 school with 340 children; a soup kitchen that has served over one million meals since 1988; an after-school program for community children; free marriage mentoring; and a community basketball league for children 7-15 years old.

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