Friday, March 06, 2015

Florida Underground Churches Exposed in City Sting

The City of Lake Worth, Florida has dispatched undercover agents to attend gatherings of citizens suspected of engaging in unlicensed Christian worship services.
“I walked back to the Coffee Bar and was able to visualize, in my opinion what appeared to be a ministry in progress. . . . People holding what appeared to be bibles or religious books as one had a cross on it. . . . I was approached by an unknown man with a cross around his neck.”
-- Gerard A. Coscia, city code enforcement officer, wrote in his narrative of a covert videotape.
For background, click headlines below to read previous articles:

Florida City Finds Family Guilty of Home Bible Studies

Phoenix Christian Jailed for Home Worship Gatherings

Pastor's Wife Fined for Praying Too Loud in North Dakota

City Permit Required for Bible Study in California

Bible Study Limit in Homes in Texas City Rescinded

Also read 'God Bless America' Banned from Florida School

In addition, read Atheists Commandeer City Council Invocations in Lake Worth, FL

-- From "War on religion? Lake Worth orders churches to have license to pray" by Kathleen Walter, WPEC-CBS12TV (West Palm Beach, FL) 2/26/15

At the Common Ground Coffee Bar in Lake Worth, Pastor Mike Olive--the owner--holds two religious services on Sundays that he says city officials are trying to stop.

He says a notice was sent to his landlord that the coffee bar doesn't have the permits to operate as a religious institution. Pastor Mike Olive said, “We had one gentleman come in from the city wearing a hoodie, and he was hiding the camera in the pockets of his hoodie.”

The nearby First Baptist Church paid the almost $500 inspection and use of occupancy fees. CBS12 asked city councilmember Christopher McVoy if this is a business tax? McVoy responded, “I can't tell you the exact answer on that. It's not a business tax, but there will be a fee involved.” CBS12 investigated if this is in line with other municipalities. In the Village of North Palm Beach, churches are exempt from a business tax and are subjected to a $50-to-$75 fire inspection fee.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

From "Liberty Counsel: City Can’t Make Churches Pay to Pray" by Margaret Menge, The Lake Worth Tribune 2/28/15

In the letter [to City Manager Michael Bornstein] from Liberty Counsel, attorney Richard Mast refers to the city’s “egregious treatment” of Common Ground Church.

“The City has inexplicably targeted CG Church for investigation, despite the fact that CG Church has made no secret of its weekly worship and other meetings since the Coffee Bar opened in November 2014 (and prior thereto, when CG Church met for six months at the same location run by the previous secular coffee bar).”

The letter [from the City to the property owner], Mast writes, cites the church’s lack of a “license,” requests that the “violation” be corrected by March 2 or a hearing would be held April 30 before the Special Magistrate and also threatens the property owner with fines of $200-$500 a day and potential foreclosure action if the property owner does not “correct” the violation.

The [Liberty Counsel] letter specifically refers to Commissioner Andy Amoroso, who owns a newsstand and gay pornography shop on Lake Avenue, and his conversation a few weeks back with Pastor Mike Olive, in which Olive says Amoroso pointed at him and said, of the coffee bar: “You better not have a church there. That better not be a church.”

Mark Woods, the manager of the city’s Code Compliance Department, told the Tribune last week that the code action regarding Common Grounds Coffee Bar was the result of an anonymous complaint. William Waters [who oversees the building and code compliance departments] told the Tribune last week that the code compliance officer was sent to investigate the coffee shop because of “several” anonymous complaints. E-mails obtained by the Tribune in a public records request show that William Waters was alerting staff about the church in September, well before the coffee shop opened, writing, “We need to look into the church that is growing down the street along the east side of the South J Street between Lake and 1st” and stating that “a lot of downtown people” are concerned about it.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

From "Florida city wages soviet-style crackdown on churches" by Todd Starnes, 3/5/15

Pastor Mike Olive told me there had not been any problems until early last month, when he had an encounter with Andy Amoroso, a city commissioner.

“After we opened up the coffee bar and started doing services, I heard that he told people we were anti-gay,” Olive said. “So I went to his shop to ask him about that. . . . He pointed at me and said, ‘Listen, you better not have a church down there.”

“Government employees are public servants and prohibited by the Constitution from inhibiting religious freedom,” said Mat Staver, founder of the religious liberty law firm Liberty Counsel. “That is a far cry from sneaking around and into a church and acting like KGB agents.”

Staver is calling on city leaders to immediately rescind the business license mandate on churches. He is also representing Common Ground Church, the congregation that was targeted by the city’s investigator.

Staver said the city’s actions violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Florida Constitution, the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the federal Religious Land Uses and Institutionalized Persons Act.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

From "Lake Worth denies targeting churches, but paper trail says it did" by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez, Christian Examiner 3/6/15

Lake Worth officials are denying claims they threatened local churches with fines and foreclosures if they did not possess business licenses.

A letter to City Manager Michael Bornstein by the Orlando-based non-profit Liberty Counsel on behalf of Common Ground Church referenced the city's request for a business license "by March 2, 2015, or a hearing would be held April 30, 2015 before the Special Magistrate."

Now the city says Common Ground Church does not require a "business license" -- which requires payment of a business tax from which churches are exempt -- and that the congregation only needs a use and occupancy (U&O) certificate (for "safety purposes") apart from that of the 2,500 square foot coffee bar.

City Manager, Mike Bornstein, told Raw Story the dispute apparently was a misunderstanding and produced a letter from the city to Olive relaying that information.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

Also read Homosexualists Admit Goal to End Religious Liberty

And read Vice President Biden Says 'Gay Rights' Trump Religious Beliefs but Pastors Lead Local Battles Against 'Gay Rights'