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Good deeds punished

"Good deeds punished" Continued...

Issue: "Tour d'America road rage," Feb. 11, 2012

City Councilman and Pastor Fernando Cabrera has been leading the charge to overturn the ban locally. He and others have hosted rallies, prayer marches, prayer meetings, and press conferences, trying to gain an audience with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Protests in Manhattan and the Bronx have led to 50 arrests on charges such as disturbing the peace. New York Assemblyman Nelson Castro has introduced Bill A08800, which would allow "the use of school buildings and school sites for religious meetings and worship when not in use for school purposes or when such service or worship is deemed not disruptive of normal school operations."

Efforts are also underway on the Senate side. On Jan. 24 the New York state Senate Education Committee voted unanimously to bring Bill 6078A to the Senate floor for a vote. The bill stipulates that religious meetings and worship can go on in school buildings and school sites.

Some larger churches that own their buildings have remained aloof from the protests. Redeemer Presbyterian, a large church that rents meeting space from Hunter College and churches, had daily prayer meetings when the pastors were arrested and, according to a statement, "is trying to support the pastors who were affected."

Sam Andreades, pastor of The Village Church, a Redeemer daughter church, said his congregation threw a celebration party when it heard of the ban. "I think it's discrimination, but I think our response has to be different than the world's response to this type of situation," Andreades said. He said the ban gives churches a good opportunity to learn how to bear inconvenience for Christ-and he's confident that his church will find a new spot.

In the meantime, he's concerned about how the move will affect the church's community. Relationships with the local church and community have been good, he says, and the janitors and fire wardens aren't happy about the loss of overtime. Besides, he asks, "Who will tune the school's piano?"

One irony about the ban is that advocates defend it as a protection against "impressionable youth" thinking that schools are advocating particular religions by allowing worship on their premises when students aren't there. Outside an Upper West Side public school I met four 10th-graders-Sue, Michael, Tiffany, and Marcela-who spend their weekends, they say, gossiping, playing video games, and procrastinating on homework, trying to "escape school."

All four love art and have some thoughts about religion: One is excited about being a Unitarian and another isn't sure she's Catholic anymore. They're used to debating religion at school. They were surprised that a church meets inside their school, but they didn't see any problems. "This is a free country," Sue said, and Michael agreed: "If it's a benefit for the people and the environment, then why not?"

The LA alternative

By Angela Lu

As New York officials try to kick churches out of public schools, some California churches are enjoying good relationships with local school districts and schools. According to USA Today, the Los Angeles Unified School District has given 35 permits to religious groups to meet in their buildings.

One young church in Los Angeles-WORLD agreed to withhold its name to protect its relationship with local government-has met in public schools since its inception six years ago. It now has thousands of attendees and would have to move out of the city to find a space large enough to satisfy its need. Church leaders don't want to do that, since they feel called to reach people in an urban setting.

Meanwhile, the school where the church meets is receiving thousands of extra dollars each month, plus volunteer labor: Church members scrape gum off desks, scrub graffiti off walls, and clean carpets. Church members chaperone football games. The church's media production helped with the school's graduation ceremony. Recently, church volunteers came to the school during the week to help man the front desk after budget cuts eliminated office positions.

The church's director of operations believes the relationship between the church and the school is mutually beneficial. He notes that production studios will often rent out LA schools to film movies, and "if movie studios can rent it, than a church should be able to rent it at the same price. A church is much more low-maintenance than a movie."

The director of operations does not see the church moving out of the school. The church wants to help "the place that so graciously allows us to meet there. ... We're not just a tenant."

Tiffany Owens
Tiffany Owens

Tiffany is a correspondent for WORLD News Group.

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