HARLEM — Despite its loss in court, the neighborhood’s least gay-friendly church is celebrating an administrative judge’s ruling against it for unauthorized work on the landmarked building.
“The judge ruled the cross of Jesus & sign will not be moved: We won, we won, have a nice day you damned homos,” reads the latest message on the sign.
The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission had ordered the Atlah Worldwide Church to appear before the Environmental Control Board over several illegal alterations, including the installation of a large sign that church officials use to write anti-gay messages on 123rd Street and Lenox Avenue.
A judge found Atlah guilty of five violations and fined it $1,850. Unless the church corrects each violation, either by correcting the alterations or petitioning to retroactively legalize the unauthorized work, more fines will follow, a LPC spokeswoman said.
During the hearing, the church's pastor, James David Manning, argued that other churches in Harlem have similar signs and he was being "singled out" because of the "anti-homosexual" messages, according to the judge's decision.
The other violations include removing the second-floor balcony without permission, replacing the ironwork, installing a marble fence on Lenox Avenue and putting a new door on 123rd Street.
According to the judge's decision, Manning said he "did not wish to go through the Community Board or [Landmarks] Commission for the approval process."
The timetable for additional fines or details regarding the process of retroactively legalizing the sign were not immediately available.
Because of the approaching holiday weekend, no one at the church was available to comment on the violations, a secretary said Thursday.
Michael Henry Adams, a historian who notified the Landmarks Preservation Commission of the unauthorized changes to the historic building, was skeptical of Atlah’s chances of legalizing the sign.
“They can’t legalize,” he said. “[Landmarks] wouldn’t have approved them in the first place. They have standards by which they approve everything. They can’t take something that would not be compatible with the historic building and say ‘Now this is fine.’ Otherwise what’s the point of the law?”
Now that the city has found them in violation of the law, Adams hopes the accumulating fines pressure Atlah to remove the sign.
“In what way did they win?” he asked.