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State Religion': Bloomberg Defends NYC Policy Evicting Dozens of Churches From Public School Buildings

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The story surrounding the New York City church ban is an intriguing one. The Blaze has extensively covered the ongoing drama between faith leaders and the city's Department of Education -- the latter of which has worked fervently to prevent churches from renting weekend space in its public school buildings.

Following years of legal battles and a refusal on the part of the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, the ban on church use of the buildings has now gone into effect, leaving dozens of community houses of worship without a location to meet.

While faith leaders lament the decision and fear for gangs, the hungry and others in need throughout the communities they serve, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is standing by the ruling. Citing religious freedom and the separation of church and state, he used his weekly radio address to reiterate his stance on the matter.

"Someday the religion that the state picks as the 'state religion' might not be yours," Bloomberg said. "The way to solve that is to not have a state religion."

But critics claim that the ban, which took effect Feb. 12, will amount to a loss of service for needy communities, a decrease in congregant attendance and church closures as the result of unaffordable rental rates. New York City is known for its high costs, which could pose serious barriers for these houses of worship as they struggle for survival.

"You're talking about thousands and thousands of people who are being forced out of their worship spaces," explained Rev. Jon Storck, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church -- a house of worship that has been meeting in Public School 150 in Sunnyside, Queens, for years.

"We’re maintaining a positive faith, because we believe God has a plan for us," adds Pastor Rick Del Rio of Abounding Grace.

Watch Del Rio, his son, Jeremy, and New York City Councilman Fernando Cabrera discuss the church ban on GBTV this past Friday:

Having essentially exhausted their efforts in the courts (although Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund has filed for a new injunction against the policy and may appear in federal court on Tuesday), churches and activists are working with city and state lawmakers to try and overturn the ban. Last Monday, the New York State Senate passed a bill that would rectify the situation. But in order to turn the proposal into law, the Assembly must also pass it and Gov. Andrew Cuomo will need to sign it into law.

The state has not moved fast enough, though, to prevent eviction. Next Sunday, the churches will have nowhere to go for worship. At the moment, each pastor is working fervently to secure alternative locations. In the end, the faith leaders and their congregations will meet anywhere they can -- even on the sidewalk if there's nowhere else for them to come together.

Despite all of the chaos, the Department of Education joins Bloomberg in remaining stuck on its stance.

"Our view is that public school buildings, which are funded by taxpayers' dollars, should not be used as houses of worship or to subsidize worship," said spokeswoman Marge Feinberg.

So it seems the ban is now in the hands of state politicians.

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