By Kirsten Glavin


JOHNSTON, RI -  The Pastor of Kings Tabernacle in Providence gave ABC-6 News a copy of a phone recording between Johnston’s Building Inspector, and a contractor.  On it, you can hear the building official, Bernard Nascenzi, refer to the pastor as "the expletive black owner."

The phone conversation came after the town’s Zoning Board denied the church a special permit to open up an African American church in town.  Kings Tabernacle purchased the building on Greenville Ave in July, from Belknap Community Church.  It has been used for religious purposes for 124 years.

Reverend Chris Abhulime argued that the only difference between their congregation, and the ones that have previously occupied it, is the color of their skin.

"All we're asking is for the community to grant us the same rights that they have granted the previous congregation for 124 years,” said Rev. Abhulime. “We're not asking for any special right. We're not asking to be treated special. We're asking for the same right.”

He claimed it is still unclear why the zoning board denied Kings Tabernacle a permit in the first place.  "So far no one has told me why we can't do what others did for 124 years,” Rev. Abhulime added.

It prompted a federal lawsuit against town officials.

"I was quite shocked,” Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena said in response to the lawsuit.

Mayor Polisena explained that Nascenzi was stressed at the time of the phone call, and is not racist.  Instead, the Mayor referred to the phone call as racially insensitive.

"My administration has always been colorblind. We don't care what color a person is, what type of religion, because listen. We're all on this earth together."

After an investigation by the Mayor and his chief of staff, Nascenzi has been placed on a 30–day suspension without pay and will take two training sensitivity classes, before he's able to return.

"He's very very remorseful. He's not a racist guy,” the Mayor added.