Syracuse's Landmark Preservation Board approves mosque's request to remove crosses from former Holy Trinity Church

The former Holy Trinity Church in Syracuse

Despite concerns from neighbors on Syracuse's north side, the Syracuse Landmark Preservation Board voted to approve a request by an Islamic group to remove crosses from a former Catholic church.

The Northside Learning Center is leasing the former Holy Trinity Catholic Church, and plans to turn it into a mosque. The center says it needs the crosses removed for religious reasons.

At Thursday morning's board meeting, a number of neighbors with concerns about the plan were present.

Donald Law's great, great grandfather was a German immigrant who helped build the church. Law says, "It is an historic landmark that should be preserved. When you come into the north side of Syracuse, it's the first thing you see. I don't see how destroying a church will help the neighborhood."

The Landmark Preservation Board says federal law dictates the Northside Learning Center be allowed to remove the crosses because not allowing them to be removed would infringe on the religious rights of the owners. Yusuf Soule, director of the non-profit literacy learning center, says the crosses must be removed because Islam doesn't allow the worship of idols or symbols.

That doesn't sit will with neighbors like Steve Angelaro. He says, "This is a betrayal by the board. I don't have a problem with any religious group being allowed to freely worship. This is an historic landmark, and the craftsmanship, character and design of the building are irreplaceable."

More than 200 people signed an online petition calling on the preservation board to deny the application to remove the crosses and build a six-foot chain-link fence around the property.

The preservation board also voted to allow the construction of the fence. The board says it wants details on plans for the crosses once they are taken down.