March 13, 2010
12:20 am Eastern
By Bob Unruh
World Net Daily
The city of Gilbert, Arizona, 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.
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 appeal was filed on behalf of the members, all seven, of the Oasis of Truth Church.
Pastor Joe Sutherland had been told in a letter from code compliance officer Steve Wallace that the people were not allowed to meet in a home for church activities under the city’s Land Development Code.
There had been no complaints about the meetings, which had been rotating among members’ homes before the officer wrote the letter and ordered the group to “terminate all religious meetings … regardless of their size, nature or frequency,” because he noticed signs about the meetings.
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.”
“The assembly activities associated with the church, including Bible studies, church leadership meetings and church fellowship activities are not permitted,” wrote Mike Milillo, the city’s senior planner.
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*** UPDATE ***
March 15, 2010
By Bob Unruh
City that banned Bible studies has Judgment Day
‘We understand the importance of maintaining religious freedom’
Officials in an Arizona city where workers recently told members of a small church they are not allowed to hold Bible studies in a home and then backed up the warning with an official opinion from the city planner – an issue on which WND reported – say they now hope to make changes that will allow such religious activity.
Officials in Gilbert, Ariz., today told WND in an e-mail that the changes apparently were in the works even as the city continued handing out warnings.
“This is a community with patriotic citizens who study and defend the Constitution,” Vice Mayor Linda Abbott said in the e-mail. “We understand the importance of maintaining religious freedom.”
Please click here to read full update.