Pastors, Lawmakers Protest Ban on Worship in School Buildings

The city has told about 60 churches they must stop holding services in public schools after Feb. 12.

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    A city councilman and three clergymen were among seven people arrested Thursday as they protested what they fear will be the eviction of worship services from all public buildings in New York City.

    The city Department of Education, arguing separation of church and state and citing a court decision, told 60 churches last month that they must stop holding worship services in public schools after Feb. 12.

    The city Housing Authority then announced it was reviewing its policy on renting space to outside groups, including five churches.

    "It's just crazy that they're forcing the churches to leave in six weeks," Councilman Fernando Cabrera said after he was handcuffed, booked on a trespass charge and released. "They should absolutely allow the houses of worship to continue doing what they are doing. It has never negatively affected anyone."

    The demonstrators were arrested when they refused to move from the entrance to the city's Law Department in Manhattan, police said. All were charged with trespassing. Cabrera said the demonstrators were kneeling in prayer.

    The councilman said he hadn't intended to get arrested but was asked by a pastor to join in the civil disobedience.

    "I couldn't think of a better cause," he said.

    Jordan Lorence, a lawyer for two of the affected churches, said 25 to 30 people were at the protest.

    "The reason they made this public demonstration today was to draw attention to the Department of Education's policy and the contemplated expansion of this policy," he said. "They believe this is an infringement on religious liberty."