Dozens of churches across the city are holding their final services inside public schools Sunday, after a federal appeals court ruled formal worship in schools violates the separation of church and state. Many of these small churches have yet to find other places to worship.
Pastor Paul Curtis of Crossroads Christian Church in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, says it's hard to replace the classrooms and gym that the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology offers. While the search for space continues, Curtis says each Sunday his approximately 100 member congregation will alternate between attending services from people’s homes via video conference and participating in community work, such as cleaning parks or helping out a disabled neighbor.
"We would not have thought of this necessarily, if we weren't forced into the position, but the more we begin exploring it, the more we like it the more we want to give that a try and experiment with it," Curtis said.
Reverend Sam Andreades, from The Village Church in Manhattan, says his services are loud and full of music so worshiping at people's apartments would disturb neighbors. Instead, his church has been checking out spaces where off-off Broadway shows rehearse.
After their final service on Sunday, Andreades said his congregants will hold a celebration. "The proper response when you suffer something for worshiping Jesus is to rejoice," he said. The church’s 50 or so members do have a parting gift for the school that has been home for the last several years: it’s tuning P.S. 3's piano. Andreades says churches across the city have supported schools in numerous ways and evicting the churches will sever those relationships.
In 1995, religious groups filed a lawsuit, challenging the city’s rule of removing churches from schools. The city won in court and the groups have since exhausted all their appeals leading to Sunday’s deadline.
On Friday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the change will be good overall for religion. "The more religious you are, I think the more you should want to keep the separation because someday the religion that the state picks as the state religion might not be yours," he said.
Many churches are hoping Albany will pass legislation requiring the city to reverse course. The Senate passed the bill Monday, but Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the legislation is too broad. The New York Civil Liberties Union supports the city’s position and has said it would look closely at challenging any legislation that requires schools to promote religion and violate the Constitution.
With reporting from Eddie Robinson