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Church and State debate in Bergen

Bergen, N.Y. --- More questions about the separation of Church & State are surfacing, this time in Genesee County where the county now owns a plot of land that has been used for worship.

Since 1960, members of a number of local churches in Bergen have gathered on a hilltop for a sunrise service on Easter Sunday. The surrounding farmland has long been owned by members of the Wilcox family but the top of the hill has changed hands numerous times.  Most recently the Monroe County Water Authority sold the land to Genesee County and the county plans to build a 9-1-1 communications tower as part of a comprehensive upgrade to the system.

With the land becoming property of Genesee County there are questions about whether the religious services can continue on that land.  County Legislator Raymond Cianfrini, a lawyer, was among the first to raise these questions in recent meetings.

"My legal background tells me that there might be an issue here by allowing a religious service to take place on public property to me is opening the door for not just this particular service but for any religious service in the future, explained Cianfrini.  I personally have no problem with the service I have no problem with them using it, Im concerned about what's going to come down the road.

Inherent in that concern for Cianfrini is what could walk through that door.

"What about the fringe element?  The radical element that we may not want on our public property, asked Cianfrini of a potential concern in the future.  The problem is, if someone else comes along and we say no we'll probably get sued and we'll probably lose.

It might become a problem since if they let certain people do it than everyone else is going to want to do the same thing," admits Miranda Fee who would like to see the services continue at that spot.

"You'll get people to go to that service because it's outdoors and out in the open, and it's Easter so they'll go to church, where you'll never get them in the building, I have brought people there that would go to that, said Charlie McAdam of Bergen.  "Certainly I would hope they would work it out."

A happy end to the potential problem has been proposed by the owner of the land that surrounds the hill.  A member of the family that owns that farm land has suggested that the services continue but be held a bit further down the hill on private property.  The hope is that would remove any potential controversy.  

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Washington Times