Sunday, March 14, 2010

Arizona City Bans Bible Studies in Homes

The city of Gilbert, Ariz., has ordered a group of seven adults to stop gathering for Bible studies in a private home because such meetings are forbidden by the city's zoning codes.

UPDATE 7/5/12 - related story: Phoenix Christian Jailed for Home Worship Gatherings

-- From "Lawyers: Gilbert Town Code Unconstitutional" KPHO-TV CBS 5 Phoenix 3/13/10

The law is written into the Gilbert town code, and the legal battle began in November when the Oasis of Truth church began inside the home of Paster Joe Sutherland.

Seven adults and our children rotated homes several times a week for Bible Study, singing and fellowship, but a sign they placed on the road to advertise a Sunday service caught the eye of a Gilbert code compliance officer, who hit the church with a code violation.

"No neighbors complained," said Doug Napier, of the Alliance Defense Fund. "They weren't making noise. They weren't causing any problems. He just saw these signs and said, 'Well, our code says you can't meet together.'"

In fact, the Sutherlands' neighbors told CBS 5 News that they think the Gilbert law is ridiculous.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

-- From "Banished! City forbids Bible studies in homes" by Bob Unruh © 2010 WorldNetDaily 3/13/10

The issue was brought to a head when city officials wrote a letter to a pastor and his wife informing them they had 10 days to quit having the meetings in their private home.

The ban, however, prompted a response from the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed an appeal with the city as the first step in its campaign to overturn a provision it describes as illegal.

"The interpretation and enforcement of the town's code is clearly unconstitutional," said Daniel Blomberg, a member of the litigation team for ADF. "It bans 200,000 Gilbert residents from meeting in their private homes for organized religious purposes – an activity encouraged in the Bible, practiced for thousands of years, and protected by the First Amendment."

The town interprets its law so that "churches within its borders cannot have any home meetings of any size, including Bible studies, three-person church leadership meetings and potluck dinners," ADF said.

A city letter confirmed, "Given that the church is considered to be religious assembly, and given the LDC provisions prohibiting that use on Local streets without Use Permits and prohibiting it in single family residential structures, it follows that the church meetings cannot be held in the home."

"This ban is defended based upon traffic, parking, and building safety concerns. However, nothing in its zoning code prevents weekly Cub Scouts meetings, Monday Night Football parties with numerous attendees or large business parties from being held on a regular basis in private homes," the ADF said.

WND reported a similar situation in San Diego County. In that case, officials eventually withdrew a warning letter and a cease-and-desist order they had issued against a pastor who had been holding a weekly Bible study in his home.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.