SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — A city board on Thursday gave a Muslim group the go-ahead to remove six crosses from the roof and spires of a century-old former Catholic church so the now-vacant Gothic structure can be used as a mosque.
More than 200 people had signed an online petition calling on the Syracuse Landmark Preservation Board to deny an application by North Side Learning Center, the church's new owner, to remove the crosses and build a six-foot chain-link fence.
Before the vote to allow the church alterations, Chairman Don Radke said the board cannot interfere with a decision that involves religious freedom.
About a dozen people who spoke at the meeting were evenly divided for and against the church conversion, The Post-Standard reported (http://bit.ly/1mDNxfs ).
Petition-signers, who included some local residents and former church parishioners, had argued that the former Holy Trinity Catholic Church was a neighborhood landmark built by German immigrants 100 years ago and removing the crosses would deface the architecture.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse closed the church in 2010 and merged the parish with that of St. John the Baptist because of a declining congregation as population shifted from the city to suburbs. The North Side Learning Center, a nonprofit group that provides literacy programs for immigrants, bought the church and its school and rectory for $150,000 in December.
Yusuf Soule, the center's director, has been the public point-person for the mosque effort. He said the crosses must be removed because the Islamic faith prohibits worship of idols and symbols.
A report by the nonprofit Onondaga Citizens League last summer said more than 7,200 refugees have resettled in the Syracuse area over the past 10 years, with the majority from Burma, Bhutan and Somalia.