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NYC’s Decision to “Un-Occupy” its Schools

Published on January 10, 2012

2011 has proven to be a year where we’ve heard the voice of the people. Rallies like Occupy Wall Street have stretched as far as Oakland and even gained support around the world. Whether you agree with their cause or not you can’t deny that the people have voiced their opinion. In the same vein, 2012 has been handed the baton and off to a good start. Recently a group of NYC pastors and councilmen were arrested for holding a peaceful rally to express the voices against the NYC’s school boards decesion to ban churches from holding further worship services in its schools. HolyCulture spoke with Efrain aka “Brother E” of Elements Church and Rapfest in the Bronx to get further details on this recent event.

Shine: For the HC readers who may not know you, open up by giving us a little of your background?

Brother E: My name is Efrain, aka Brother E. I’ve been a part of Gospel Hip Hop for a long time as an MC in various ministries; on staff at Rap Fest in the Bronx; had an internet radio show back in the day called AmenRadio!; I ran a store called Tha Outlet (hate to see Bus Shop closing); ran the Heavenly Hip Hop Ring a LONG time ago LOL; and I used to write for Hip Hop Zone and was an editor for Holy Culture for a few years too. During all that time I was a youth minister and now am the Pastor of The Elements Church in the Bronx. We’ve been a church since 2008 and we’re serve the urban community. Our mission is “Leading the urban culture to Christ by cultivating relationship.” I’m also a father of two and a husband.

Shine: How long have the churches been allowed to use these buildings?

Brother E: How long? Since Christians began settling in this country. In small town across the country the first building they would erect would be a school, that on Sundays would turn into the town church. So it’s kind of hard to give you a hard answer on that, but in the “modern era”, regarding religion and the public school system, some significant Supreme Court rulings have come down since as early as 1925.

Shine: After so many years of being able to worship in the schools, why now? What’s the boards argument against the services?

Brother E: New York City’s Dept. of Education has been trying for over a decade to remove churches from schools. It has come to a head now because the Supreme Court refused to hear a lower court’s ruling on one church in the Bronx, thus ending the long process of appeals. The Dept. of Education then decided to remove all churches who rent form schools. Their argument is that renting in school spaces violates separation of church and state. “A worship service is an act of organized religion that consecrates the place in which it is performed, making it a church,” the judges wrote. Some people feel that “the Dept. of Education is now in the inappropriate position of determining the difference between a worship service and an activity that includes prayer — something that might be different for every religion and congregation.” – NY Times quote

Shine: How many churches meet in these buildings regularly?

Brother E: The number is at about 60 churches. Most of them in poor communities who make a difference with their presence.

Shine: How did the Rallies come about and what’s your connection to the cause?

Brother E: The first rally, last Thursday, was organized by Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who is also a pastor, and Pastor Dimas Saleberrios. At the time Pastor Dimas’ church was in jeopardy of losing their space as well because the NYC Housing Authority was using this ruling to include all city-owned property and they were going to force churches to leave their community centers. After the rally on January 5th where Council Member Fernando Cabrera, Pastor Dimas Salaberrios, Pastor Bill Devlin and Pastor Michael Carrion were arrested along with three congregants, the NYC Housing Authority has decided to sign long-term agreements so the churches can continue conducting their services in the projects.

My connection to the cause is simple. Our church has its own space already. But this would be a significant blow to our communities and I see it as discriminatory against houses of worship. My connection is that I am a believer and I am standing up for what I believe to be a just cause.

Shine: Do you feel the boards decision to ban the churches is a violation of constitutional rights?

Brother E: Absolutely. The schools are allowed to accommodate community groups. Churches are just one group among many but they are the only group being forced out.

Shine: How many other community groups meet in the schools?

Brother E: I don’t have access to that information but I do know that all community groups have equal access to the use of the spaces.

Shine: What violation lead to the arrest of the councilman and pastors?

Brother E: They prayed in front of an entrance to 100 Church Street, in Manhattan, which houses the New York Law Dept. They did block an entrance, but there was a second entrance completely unobstructed.

Shine: How has the public/media responded? What social media outlets have you used to raise awareness?

Brother E: As with all things, many people are pro civil disobedience, some are not. Overall the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We have used Facebook, Twitter and every conceivable method of spreading the word to raise awareness.

Shine: Does your ministry occupy a school or do you have your own location?

Brother E: We have our own location.

Shine: What do you wish to accomplish in the next rally? How can we get involved?

Brother E: Ultimately we would love for those decisions to be reversed and the Dept. of Education change their policy and allow churches to continue to rent at public schools. It makes no sense to evict them when they use Sundays, a day when no one else uses the space. Also, they aren’t using the space for free. They are renting the spaces. The Dept. of Education is not doing well financially and they are removing a revenue stream. That just does not compute! Finally, I’d love to see the Gospel Hip Hop / Holy Hip Hop community come out and support on Thursday. We all know that hip hop is a revolutionary culture in its own rite. We’re just continuing in those efforts on behalf of churches who’ve been discriminated against.

If you are in the tri-state area join religious leaders for a prayer rally against NYC Mayor’s discriminatory decision to remove Houses of Worship from public school and public places.

When: Thursday Jan. 12th @ 12PM
Location: Morris High School
Address: 1100 Boston Road (Corners of 167th Street) Bronx, NY

For more information contact: Pierina Sanchez at | 347.590/2874 or 347.903.2874

Follow Brother E: @BrotherE
Follow Shine: @shines140

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