SYRACUSE – 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 6-foot chain-link fence.
Before the vote to allow the church alterations, board 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. 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 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 pointman for the mosque effort. He said the crosses must be removed because the Islamic faith prohibits worship of idols and symbols.