Priests and heads of Christian groups in New York are preparing to protest against a new initiative, which they claim would harm church activities in the city, particularly in poorer neighborhoods.

According to an amendment put forward by the New York municipality's education committee, churches will no longer be able to rent out space in school buildings for prayer sessions and other religious events. Until now, churches were able to organize activities in school buildings on Sundays and vacation days, when no classes are taking place.

The amendement is due to go into effect in February.

The first protest against the initiative took place last week, in front of a school in the Bronx, where New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was giving a speech. Around 200 priests took part in the demonstration.

Earlier this week, a special prayer session "against the decree to harm the activities of the churches" was organized in one of Manhattan's oldest churches.

Senior priests in New York claimed that the ban will harm 150 churches and Christian communities, who will be forced to look for new places. The new amendment will also lead to financial losses for the municipal treasury of millions of dollars, they claim, as schools will lose the income from renting out space in school buildings to churches.

Dimas Salaberrios, a well-known senior Bronx priest, said that these new limits would particularly harm activities that the churches carry out in poorer neighborhoods.

"Churches in the Bronx and in Queens deals successfully with poverty and crime, and with the limits on their activities there will be a destructive effect," Salaberrios said.

He also said he would go on hunger strike until the new initiative was canceled.

New York education committee officials said that they were not considering canceling the initiative. "This is an amendment that is aimed at protecting children who are vulnerable to influence," one of them said.