Sunday School Faithful Defy Deluge To Protest Evictions
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
DOWNTOWN — Sunday’s deluge didn’t stop hundreds of the city’s church-goers and their allies from rallying in Cadman Plaza Park and marching over the Brooklyn Bridge to protest the city's plan to ban churches from renting space in public schools.
“This cause is so important that we’ll stand out here in the rain, the snow, you name it,” said Rev. Dimas Salaberrios of the Infinity New York Church in the Bronx. “Churches need the right to be able to worship and rent space in schools like any other organization.”
The congregations want state legislators to approve legislation that would allow them to continue to rent space to hold services in public schools. The city moved to ban the churches from meeting in public schools after a Bronx congregation lost a legal battle in December.
Rev. Salaberrios said that the 68 threatened churches are assets to their communities, especially in boroughs like Brooklyn and the Bronx.
“The mayor’s discrimination against the faith community is harmful to the city,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle. “Crime decreases in neighborhoods with churches, and schools benefit from the income. It’s frustrating to see great churches doing great work being shoved out of their communities. They wanted everybody out by February 12; now we have until the end of the school year. I hope the mayor and [Schools Chancellor] Dennis Walcott wake up.”
Parishioners sang during a rally punctuated by waves of driving rain before marching over the bridge. Carl Forrester, a member of the Brooklyn Tabernacle on Fulton Mall, said it was important to him to show up in the rain. “I’m here to represent God and have a good time.”
Rev. Gary Frost of Evergreen Baptist Church in Bushwick said that while his congregation has its own church, he came out to support churches that don’t. “We support the right to worship and express our faith in public school space,” he said. “We’re concerned about the bill, and are willing to forgo secondary matters to rally together around this primary issue.”
Support came from the Teamsters as well. “We’re marching today to make a statement — especially in the rain — how important this is for freedom of speech and the right of assembly in public schools and public spaces,” said Rev. Pedro Cardi of the Lower East Side Fellowship, a member of Teamsters Joint Council 16.
Rev. Jason McGuire of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms said, “Religious freedom underpins all the other freedoms. These churches are serving their communities and paying their fair share. It doesn’t make sense to us. Look at American history — Thomas Jefferson allowed worship in the Capitol building.”
This was the second march this year for church members. Following the march over the Brooklyn Bridge, participants attended a concert in City Hall Park.