Covenant Pastors Among Protestors Arrested in NYC

By Stan Friedman

NEW YORK, NY (January 6, 2011) – Despite being one of six people arrested Wednesday during a “prayer protest” over the city’s decision to evict all churches holding worship services in public schools, Evangelical Covenant Church pastor Michael Carrion says he will continue to pressure the city to reverse the policy.

Carrion is pastor of The Promised Land Covenant Church in the Bronx. It meets in a storefront and is not affected by the decision. Also participating in the protest was Efrain Alicea, pastor of Elements Covenant Church, a Covenant church plant.

Carrion, along with four other pastors and a city councilperson, were arrested while protesting outside the New York City Law Department and charged with “criminal trespassing,” which is considered a “minor violation.”

The city sent eviction notices to churches using public school facilities immediately following December’s U.S. Supreme Court decision not to review a lower court’s ruling last August that upheld the city’s policy.

East Coast Conference superintendent Howard Burgoyne, who was not at the protest site, characterized the notices as a “no room in the inn” edict.

The city argues that allowing the churches to meet in the schools is a violation of the principle of separation of church and state. In a 2-1 decision, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals said, “A worship service is an act of organized religion that consecrates the place in which it is performed, making it a church.”

To read a previous story on how the ruling might affect Covenant churches, click here.

The protestors fear that the city will use the same separation of church and state rationale to evict churches from all public buildings. The New York City Housing Authority already has said it is reconsidering allowing churches to meet in buildings it oversees.

Carrion and the others were part of a group of roughly 30 people protesting the action. The seven were arrested while praying and singing gospel songs in front of the law center’s main entrance.

They had been warned multiple times to move. Carrion acknowledges that the protest prevented individuals from using the main entrance, but says other entrances were available.

The seven were handcuffed and placed in a police van. The group sang gospel songs while being transported, processed, and held briefly in a city jail cell, Carrion says. “I think they were glad to get rid of us,” he added, laughing.

“This was the first protest and we were the first to get arrested,” Carrion says. Another protest is planned for next Thursday.

The Bronx Household of Faith, which was threatened with eviction, brought the original suit against the New York City Department of Education. According to the New York Times, 160 churches met in schools last year.

Reversing the city’s decision is critical for the churches, their communities, and even the rest of the country, says Carrion.

“Come February 12, all these churches will be gone,” says Carrion. Roughly 17,000 people attend the 160 churches the pastor says will be affected.

The churches cannot afford to purchase their own buildings or rent because of high real estate prices in New York City, says Carrion. He adds that many of the churches serve in the poorest sections of the city.

The congregations are making a significant difference in their communities, says Carrion, whose church in the Bronx is located in the country’s poorest congressional district. Ministries of the churches being evicted include literacy, anti-violence, and other educational programs, he adds.

“Closing these churches would be a travesty for the community,” Carrion says.

The city’s actions pose a larger threat as well, says Carrion. “If they can pull this off in New York, then they can pull this off around the country.”

Roughly 50 percent of the nearly 110 current Evangelical Covenant Church plants meet in public schools, says Peter Sung, director of church planting in the Department of Church Growth and Evangelism of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

Some church plants are finding it more difficult to rent space because an increasing number of school boards are no longer allowing churches to meet in district facilities, often citing their interpretation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause.

“As it stands, this policy becomes acutely discriminatory against religious use rather than appropriately unbiased,” Burgoyne says. “They are not being given preferential treatment. In my mind, renting is neither establishment nor endorsement, but simply maximizing public space use while increasing city revenues and lowering city expenses.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

No Comments

  1. Your site has reposted an article about churches that use community centers of the New York City Housing Authority for worship. FYI, here’s our official statement:

    “The New York City Housing Authority is not evicting any of the church organizations from our property. These organizations have been using NYCHA space under short-term agreements that have expired according to their terms. We have offered each of the 5 churches an extension to remain at NYCHA facilities, and 4 of the 5 have signed an extension agreement (see list below). For almost a year, NYCHA has been reviewing the terms under which it rents its space to all organizations.”

  2. The court decision was narrow-minded, bigoted, and short-sighted. What trouble would our nation be in without the good that churches like these do?! Good for all of you for standing up for Christ, his Church, and the people he loves.

  3. With all due respect, the Court of Appeals got it wrong on at least two counts. Obviously, allowing congregations to use a school does not equal establishing that congregation’s denomination as the official church of the City of New York, unless NYC only rents to one denomination, which is very unlikely. Second, meeting for worship, prayer and a lesson from the Bible does not “consecrate the place in which it is performed, making it a church.” If that were the case, many homes would have to be classified as churches – and therefore come under different tax laws! Parks would become consecrated land – and rivers and lakes would be consecrated by the baptisms that take place in them. The alarmist may say that this is a stepping stone to moving Christian religious activity to “reservations” called “churches” and keeping us shut out of public view. I am not an alarmist, but I think this was a flawed legal decision with very negative potential in NYC and elsewhere.

  4. I just wanted to clarify, I was there, protesting, but was not arrested. I probably will be arrested on Thursday at the next rally in the Bronx. But I thought you should know, I was not arrested at the first rally, even though I was present.

    Thanks,

    Efrain

  5. Hurrah for those NY protestors. These public bannings are getting out of control, especially when these churches are paying for the privilege to use these facilities as well as doing their communities an incredible favor with their ministries.

    When we lived in Sweden in the late 1970s the Swedes, as secular as imaginable, recognized the ministry of the church with the youth and reimbursed the denominational youth department to enable it to enhance its work. Too bad our country is so increasingly blinded by its secularity. A wakeup call is in order. Dan

  6. When one door closes, another will open. Praying that God will make a way where they seems to be no way!!!

  7. Amendment 1 of the US Constitution – Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. There are no words or mention of a separation of church and state. In fact, we are witnessing exactly what the constitution addresses as our freedom. I pray our brothers in New York are the catalyst for all of us and our partner organizations to strengthen advocacy against this injustice. Those of us who have been called to minister in under resourced communities and are discipling boys and girls, men and women to accept, submit to and extend the love of Christ know the difficult realities of finding a public place to gather. Neighborhoods throughout the country have schools that sit vacant on the weekend and are in need of resourcing. These school buildings are not rented out free of charge. I pray for boldness, unity and wisdom in this call for action. There are too many lives affected for all of us not to be gravely concerned about this attack on the body of Christ.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *