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Ministers mount a fight
City's parking enforcement plans prompt protest
(Published April 17, 2006)

Staff Writer

Local clergymen have created an interdenominational coalition to fight city officials' announced plan to begin Sunday enforcement of parking laws against members of their congregations.

It is not fair for the city or newcomers to conspire to force our worship communities out of the District of Columbia into neighboring jurisdictions - and our houses of worship will not go without a fight," said the Rev. Steve Tucker, pastor of New Commandment Baptist Church, 625 Park Road NW.

The ministers announced April 13 that they had begun circulating a petition that calls on Mayor Anthony A. Williams to delay the planned enforcement actions, set to begin in the Logan Circle area on April 23, for at least a year to allow a task force to develop a "strategic approach" for addressing parking shortages around many large churches.

Citing safety hazards, city transportation officials announced in March that Sunday enforcement of parking laws, especially against church-related double-parking in congested neighborhoods, would begin in response to increasing complaints from inconvenienced residents. At that time, officials vowed to work with Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, community groups and affected congregations to formulate proposals to resolve neighborhood-specific problems.

But local ministers complain that a month, especially during preparations for Easter and Passover, was insufficient time to bring together all affected parties to seek resolution. They are calling the city's beefed-up enforcement plan "arbitrary" and have scheduled a protest rally to begin at 2 p.m. April 23 in Logan Circle to draw public attention to their cause.

"Since many of our religious institutions have been operating for years, and some for a century or more, and many have had to improvise for years when it comes to parishioners parking in an urban environment, why has the [city] administration chosen to enforce already existing regulations at this time and not before?" complains the Rev. Graylan Hagler, pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, 5301 North Capitol St. NE.

Hagler and others say they are upset that city officials seem to be favoring newcomers to the community who are not embracing the religious institutions that remained as pillars against illegal drugs, violence and prostitution invading their neighborhoods.

"The District [government] obviously believes that a revitalized community is dependent upon those who have moved from outside into the District of Columbia," said the Rev. Frank Tucker, pastor of First Baptist Church, 712 Randolph St. NW, and facilitator of the Wednesday Morning Clergy Fellowship.

In addition to the Wednesday Morning Clergy Fellowship, the coalition includes the Baptist Ministers' Conference of Washington, the Full Gospel Fellowship of Washington, the Baptist Convention of Washington, the Council of Churches of Greater Washington and many local pastors.

The group is calling for creation of a task force made up of residents, government officials and representatives from congregations, judicatories and religious organizations to formulate recommendations and action plans within six months to address the parking problems. Ministers also want the city to reconsider zone parking restrictions around places of worship that are enforced late into the night, making weekday parking difficult for church-related activities.

The city "does not seem to understand the value and power in its religious institutions being able to faithfully function and not be harassed by government," Wednesday Morning Clergy Fellowship facilitator Tucker said.

The Rev. Anthony J. Motley, president of the Council of Churches of Greater Washington, noted that shelter operations, feeding programs, housing services, child care and tutoring are among the activities that many D.C. churches sponsor. The services, funded by the tax-exempt religious institutions, are ones which Motley said "the city should offer but because of past budget constraints has not been able to fulfill [the need] and is currently not fulfilling."

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator