NYC Pastors Bring School Worship Fight to Legislator’s Home

NYC Pastors Bring School Worship Fight to Legislator’s Home

Taking Worship Ban fight to NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's Home

A small group of protesters took their school worship ban fight to the home of New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Two New York City pastors took their ongoing protest of the city’s ban on worship in public schools to the home of New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath last night. They charged that the Jewish lawmaker has disrespected their “Sabbath” by failing to bring a bill to the House floor that would permanently restore public school access to affected houses of worship. A similar bill has already passed the New York Senate and supporters say there are enough votes in the House for Bill #A8800 to pass in the House. More than 60 churches won a temporary reprieve in February when U.S. Chief District Judge Loretta A. Preska issued an injunction against the city’s Board of Education, but a city attorney has said the city will appeal if Preska rules permanently in their favor.

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The Rev. Rick Del Rio, senior pastor of Abounding Grace Ministries, organized the Sabbath eve demonstration and lives four blocks from Silver. He has ministered in their Lower East Side neighborhood for two decades.

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Members of Rev. Del Rio’s church spoke to UrbanFaith about the school worship ban, saying it represents a threat to their religious freedom. They were joined by the Rev. Dimas Salaberrios, pastor of Infinity Church in the Bronx. Salaberrios said the worship ban inordinately affects economically disadvantaged communities and accused Silver of lying and double-dealing in regard to the bill.

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A Security guard at Silver’s building barred UrbanFaith from ringing his buzzer for a response to the demonstration, saying Silver was not at home. Del Rio said the Speaker knew about the protest in advance. He promised to return next week with a larger group if Silver fails to act. The current legislative session ends June 21.

*Note: For more of our exclusive reporting on this story, see the links below. For more video and photos from the protest, go to Explorations Media’s Flickr and YouTube channels.
Religion Wins Big; Pastors Protest Loss

Religion Wins Big; Pastors Protest Loss

It’s been a monumental month in United States Supreme Court religious liberty decisions. First the court decided against hearing the Bronx Household of Faith’s appeal of a New York City Board of Education policy banning worship in public schools. Now the court has ruled that a teacher who taught religious classes at a Lutheran school was not protected under anti-discrimination employment laws because religious bodies have a right to hire and fire ministers as they see fit.

The Most Significant Decision in 20 Years

The New York Times reported that the Lutheran school decision may be the “most significant religious liberty decision in two decades” because, for the first time, it “recognized a ‘ministerial exception’ to employment discrimination laws, saying that churches and other religious groups must be free to choose and dismiss their leaders without government interference.”

The case against the school was brought by Cheryl Perich, who spent 45 minutes each day on religious instruction, but “was a ‘called’ teacher who had completed religious training and whom the school considered a minister.” The school said it fired her for pursuing litigation against it in violation of church teaching, The Times reported.

In an op-ed at CNN.com, the attorney for Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School said the decision was “a huge win for religious liberty.”

“Churches do not run the government, select government leaders, or set criteria for choosing government leaders. And government does not run the churches, select religious leaders, or set criteria for choosing religious leaders. The Court unanimously reaffirmed that principle on Wednesday,” said Douglas Laycock.

At USA Today, University of Notre Dame law professor and associate dean Thomas Messner said the ruling affirmed the “foundational principle” that “in a constitutional democracy like ours, secular governments lack the power to resolve religious disputes, to answer religious questions, or to select religious ministers.”

What About Sexual Abuse Reporting?

The Los Angeles Times reported that “lower courts have long recognized that churches are protected from lawsuits involving their internal workings.” But The New York Times noted that “at the argument in October, some justices expressed concern that a sweeping ruling would protect religious groups from lawsuits by workers who said they were retaliated against for, say, reporting sexual abuse.”

“Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Wednesday’s decision left the possibility of criminal prosecution and other protections in place. ‘There will be time enough to address the applicability of the exception to other circumstances,'” The Times reported.

Peyote, Polygamy, and “Internal Church Decisions”

At Spiritual Politics, Religion scholar Mark Silk said, “The big deal is that two decades ago, the Court substantially undermined the constitutional right to free exercise in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), a 6-3 decision written by Antonin Scalia that held that two Native American drug counselors could not go to federal court to claim a religious right to sacramentally ingest peyote as part of their membership in the Native American Church.” The Smith decision referred back to an 1878 decision in which the Supreme Court “turned down the Mormon claim to have a free exercise right to polygamy,” Silk noted.

“Maybe ingesting peyote is an outward physical act distinguishable from being employed or not employed as the result of ‘an internal church decision that affects the faith and mission of the church itself.’ But anyone who knows anything about Mormon theology knows that the LSD Church’s embrace of polygamy–‘plural marriage’–was an internal church decision that affected its faith and mission profoundly. … The bottom line is that, having been forced by the Justice Department to confront Smith directly, the conservatives on the Court significantly walked the Scalia doctrine back,” Silk concluded.

More Pastors  Protest Eviction from NYC Public Schools

Meanwhile, reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s other big religion decision regarding worship in New York City public schools continues to heat up. Thursday, 13 pastors and 30 lay people were arrested as they held a prayer rally at Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s State of the City address, according to A Journey Through NYC Religions. The New York Times barely noticed.

What Do You Think?

Are these decisions good for religious liberty or do some of their implications concern you?

Gay Marriage Paranoia

Gay Marriage Paranoia

GAY UNION: Reginald Stanley and Rocky Galloway became the first homosexual couple to legally wed in Washington, D.C. in March 2010. (Newscom Photo)

“Lord, we’re definitely living in the end times.”

“It’s about Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

I heard these complaints from callers to a Christian radio talk show in Virginia alarmed by New York’s June 24 vote legalizing gay marriage. Similar cries are being voiced across the country among Christians who apparently believe homosexuality is THE unpardonable sin and biggest threat to marriage. America is headed for hell, they say.

But government legalization of gay marriage may be a blessing in disguise that the church in America needs today. Gay marriage isn’t what Christians should worry about. Conformity is the bigger threat.

Romans 12:2 warns:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Separation of church and state is not just a philosophy concerning the relationships between governments and organized religious institutions. It’s ultimately about the church (people) being the moral conscience that influences the nation (society), as the Founders intended. When people of faith become too close and comfy with society’s secular standards, we get negatively influenced. This is evident in the case of marriage and divorce rates.

The accuracy of divorce rates has been questioned because of difficulties obtaining clear data, but according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national divorce rate is about 34 percent.  According to a study by the Barna Group, the Christian divorce rate is 32 percent. A U.S. Census study released in August indicates that southeastern states have the highest divorce levels. Explanations are that people there tend to marry younger, have less education and lower incomes compared to, for example, their northeastern counterparts whose average divorce rates are the lowest. With the Bible Belt leading the way in divorce, and the national Christian rate mirroring the nation, we’re certainly not the “salt of the Earth” God intended when it comes to marriage.

Not only lay people, but many of Christianity’s most well-known figures are divorcees, even multiple divorcees. Their scandals read like the pop culture celebrity breakups blogsites. How can Christians claim to believe that marriage represents Jesus Christ’s love and eternal bond with the church and is between a man and woman only, yet have equally high divorce rates? How is it that the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered) community that many Christians say is headed for the same fate as Sodom and Gomorrah is a stronger advocate for committed marriages?

Could it be that Christians have “conformed” as the Scripture warns?

America’s Founding Fathers wisely established the separation of church and state in the U.S. Constitution because they understood the disastrous results the church/state union had in Europe. The bond has been a bad dealfor the church for centuries since Emperor Constantine I wedded the Roman Empire to the Catholic Church in A.D. 313 for strategic benefit. Christianity grew and spread, but at the cost of much horrific state-motivated sins, such as the Crusades, colonialism, and slavery, that were sanctioned by the church. Christianity’s moral stature suffered.

Secular and spiritual motives on marriage have often clashed. The marriage debate was at the heart of Protestants splintering from Catholics as King Henry VIII established the Church of England because the Pope refused to annul his marriage. The king wanted to wed a different woman who could bare him an heir to the throne.

If we believe marriage is under God’s higher authority, why would we need the government to change the Constitution to define marriage to our liking? Our greater concern should be that the government never infringe on church freedoms, including whom individual churches choose to marry. Instead of petitioning the government to adopt a definition that not even all Christian agree on (there are also LGBT Christians), show by example why marriage between a man and woman works best. Be the conscience of society by significantly reducing the Christian divorce rate. Otherwise, we’re just hypocrites who have conformed to the world.

I’ve been married once, for nearly 20 years to the same woman. We’ve successfully reared three children into adulthood. It has been wonderful and challenging; my shortcomings and stubbornness over the years haven’t helped. Marriage is not easy and there are situations where couples are better off parting ways. I realized this at age 12, watching inside the courtroom as my parents split.

Still, as Christians our best witness to society on marriage is to put our energy into making our marriages work, not speculating about the end times, or pressing to block two consenting adult citizens from pursuing their equal rights to privacy and happiness under the government’s laws as guaranteed by our Constitution.

In the end, only God’s judgment of all of us — straight or gay — matters.

The opinions expressed in this commentary belong to the writer and are not necessarily the views of UrbanFaith.com or Urban Ministries, Inc.