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Thursday, May 28, 2009

San Diego demands permit for house Bible study

I wonder how much of an issue this could become over the next few years. From the Fox News website...
Couple Ordered to Stop Holding Bible Study at Home Without Permit

Pastor David Jones and his wife Mary have been told that they cannot invite friends to their San Diego, Calif. home for a Bible study — unless they are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to San Diego County.

"On Good Friday we had an employee from San Diego County come to our house, and inform us that the Bible study that we were having was a religious assembly, and in violation of the code in the county." David Jones told FOX News.

"We told them this is not really a religious assembly — this is just a Bible study with friends. We have a meal, we pray, that was all," Jones said.

A few days later, the couple received a written warning that cited "unlawful use of land," ordering them to either "stop religious assembly or apply for a major use permit," the couple's attorney Dean Broyles told San Diego news station 10News.

But the major use permit could cost the Jones' thousands of dollars just to have a few friends over.

For David and Mary Jones, it's about more than a question of money.

"The government may not prohibit the free exercise of religion," Broyles told FOX News. "I believe that our Founding Fathers would roll over in their grave if they saw that here in the year 2009, a pastor and his wife are being told that they cannot hold a simple Bible study in their own home."

"The implications are great because it’s not only us that’s involved," Mary Jones said. "There are thousands and thousands of Bible studies that are held all across the country. What we’re interested in is setting a precedent here — before it goes any further — and that we have it settled for the future."

The couple is planning to dispute the county's order this week.

If San Diego County refuses to allow the pastor and his wife to continue gathering without acquiring a permit, they will consider a lawsuit in federal court.

This almost sounds like what many Christians face in China, or how it used to be in the old Soviet Union when a church wasn't permitted to have worship services unless it was first "registered" with the state.

The reason for my earlier statement about this becoming an issue again is that the "house church" movement is growing profoundly in the United States. We're not talking about an evening during the week where Christians meet for Bible study, but believers coming together on Sundays for times of praise and fellowship when many others are congregating in more "traditional" places of worship. I've taken part in a few of these services and other than the drastically smaller number in attendance, it's not really different from a "big" church. There is music and singing, there is praying, there is an edifying message from the Word (usually more than one even, 'cuz in house worship everyone is encouraged to share with others what God is showing them as an individual).

Does it rest within the jurisdiction of any organ of state to demand that such worship - or any worship for that matter - must only be conducted in places with the "proper zoning permits"?


Matt said...

That's it. I'm moving to England. Sorry Chris! No RPG Group for us anymore.

Scoke said...

There's more to this story than FOX is telling; apparently one of the members of the Bible study group hit a car on the street, and they're saying the street is too crowded, which is why they need a permit.


This can go into effect for anything, if we consider this. Any kind of party that has more than three cars can go into this category.

People suck. Get over yourselves, it isn't the end of the world that your car got dented or scratched. If you think it's too crowded, seriously, move the frak out.

I guess these are the same kinds of people who move to a subdivision near a racetrack or an airport, and then complain about the noise after the fact.

Chris Knight said...

This is gonna get into some really crazy litigation, I can tell.

Maybe it would be common sense for these folks to consider a venue that can support everyone's vehicles. But all the same: when a city gets into the business of for all intents and purposes regulating religious worship, for whatever reason, that raises a red flag in my mind. The city might not have anything against it being a "religious" exercise per se... but what bothers me is that this sort of thing can easily become a legal precedent.

If nothing else, that at least merits some concern.

Joseph said...

I should point out that this is not only a serious issue for Christians, but for all religious folks across the nation. I know many in the pagan community have already come out in vocal support for the Jones's, because all small home-based religious groups are threatened by this. As a pagan myself, who holds regular worship at my own home, this is a very chilling development and one which must be resisted on a broad interfaith level.

Matt said...

Well Joe, although Chris and I are not in support of your religious belief, I am fairly certain we are in agreements with you over how chilling this is. I thought many things would happen in this country, but utmost certainly not anything restricting religious worship!

Chris, why don't we just move to England? Heck, we just might develop an accent!

Anonymous said...

Nobody's trying to restrict your religious freedom, that's blatantly unconstitutional and would never pass muster in a higher court. They can, however, keep you from blocking the street no matter what your persuasion. Once again, more sky falling rhetoric from the denizens of this blog. Next topic .... "The Black Helicopters the Government is Using to Spy on Me are Reverse Racist".

Anonymous said...

This is good news for it fulfills prophesy.

Embrace it. Resist it. Survive it.

Spokane, WA