Whatever you do, don’t hold a private home bible study in San Diego County. It could cost you big time. That’s what a local Pastor and his wife have found out, the hard way. The couple claims they were questioned by a county official who asked, “Do you have a regular meeting in your home?”, ‘Do you say amen?’, ‘Do you pray?’, ‘Do you say praise the Lord?’.
According to San Diego County officials if you answered yes to any of those questions than your little home bible study is a church, and subject to fines under “unlawful use of land” laws. The couple, Pastor Dave Jones and his wife Mary, claim only 15 people attend their meetings.
Dean Broyles, the couples attorney, says that under these guidelines, the county would have to fine anyone meeting in a home for various events; poker night, football games, or Tupperware parties. The couple plan to deliver to the county officials a letter stating that their first amendment rights under the Constitution have been violated.
For you liberals out there who think that the first amendment is only talking about free speech, it also mentions something about freedom of assembly and religion. This pastor and his wife, along with the group of 15 who meet are clearly having their right to peaceably assemble and practice their religion violated. And don’t use the “This is a church” argument with me either.
“For churches and religious assemblies there’s big parking concerns, there’s environmental impact concerns when you have hundreds or thousands of people gathering. But this is a different situation, and we believe that the application of the religious assembly principles to this Bible study is certainly misplaced,” said Broyles.
The San Diego County officials are asking that the couple obtain a “major use permit”, essentially conceding to the county that they are running a church out of their home; as well as costing them thousands of dollars. Therein could lie the whole point for the ridiculous behavior by the county. If the county refuses to release the couple from having to obtain the permit, this case will likely end up in federal court.
Update: 5/30/2009-San Diego County Backs Off
I suppose enough of “We the people” complained to San Diego County officials. They have now officially backed off from requiring Pastor Jones and his wife to obtain a permit for their bible study. This is an excerpt from Sign on San Diego:
Barraged by hundreds of complaints, San Diego County officials backed down yesterday from their enforcement.
“No one respects the right to free religious expression more than I do, and no one would find the infringement of such rights more abhorrent,” county Chief Administrative Officer Walt Ekard said in a statement.
Chandra Wallar, the county’s general manager of land use and environment, said the county has re-examined the situation and decided that the Joneses don’t need a permit after all.
Religious assembly, under the county land-use code, is defined as “religious services involving public assembly such as customarily occurs in synagogues, temples, and churches.”
Wallar said that definition, which doesn’t spell out specific thresholds on when a religious gathering becomes a religious assembly, probably needs to be clarified and that more training may be warranted for code enforcement officers.
San Diego Bible Study Video