They March Over Brooklyn Bridge,
Singing Hymns and Waving Signs
By Mary Frost
BROOKLYN — Waving signs and singing hymns, thousands of churchgoers, pastors and officials rallied Sunday afternoon in Downtown Brooklyn and marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest the city’s plan to ban churches from renting space in public schools.
Church congregations, like other groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and the Boy Scouts, have long been allowed to rent space in public school buildings after school hours and on weekends. The law would specifically ban worship services, but would allow other church-related activities in school buildings, such as Bible study classes.
Roughly 60 congregations hold worship services in city school buildings.
“We’re saying with one voice that churches want the right to meet in public schools,” said Sean Proper, a member of Trinity Grace Church. Trinity Grace is being evicted from two schools, M.S. 51 on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and P.S. 75, the Emily Dickinson School, in Manhattan.
“New York City is the only city that has put in the ban,” he said. “It makes us homeless, and the schools lose the funding, which goes directly to the schools we rent from.”
Hanna Kim from the New Frontier Church, a Korean-speaking congregation in Manhattan, said, “We have nothing against the city, we just want the right to practice our religion.” The New Frontier Church rents space from P.S. 11 and has 500 to 600 members.
The city moved to ban all churches from renting space in public schools after a Bronx congregation lost a long-running legal battle to rent school space. The Supreme Court recently declined to review the Second Circuit decision, Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York.
The ban is set to begin on Feb. 12. Bills are pending in the state Legislature and City Council that would reverse it, and marchers signed letters addressed to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and others urging them to support the churches.
“I believe in the separation of church and state as well as freedom of religion,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who marched at the front of the crowd with Comptroller John Liu and other officials. “There is a reasonable solution that can allow religious groups to rent space in schools during off hours, just as hundreds of other recreational and community groups do. These houses of worship are part of the fabric of our neighborhoods — City Hall needs to pay attention to that.”