Despite the clear language of our First Amendment, religious liberty is under increasing attack in the United States. Our Founders realized an important omission, and ratified what became known as the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791. The first of those ten amendments reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (emphasis added)
A San Juan Capistrano, California, couple has been ordered to stop holding a Bible study in their home on the grounds that they are violating a city ordinance. Overly-nosey city officials claim the home Bible study is a “church” and that it cannot be considered a private gathering:
Homeowners Chuck and Stephanie Fromm have already been fined for holding what city officials called “a regular gathering of more than three people.” These clueless bureaucrats claim homeowners need their permission to hold a Bible study in their home. The Capistrano Dispatch explains:
According to city records, a code-enforcement officer gave the Fromms a verbal warning about the meetings in May. Citations were issued in May and June, according to city records. San Juan Capistrano City Attorney Omar Sandoval said the city had not yet been served with a copy of the legal action, so he could not comment.
The Fromms’ citations say they violated section 9-3.301 of the Capistrano Municipal Code, which prohibits “religious, fraternal or non-profit” organizations in residential neighborhoods without a conditional-use permit. The footnote on the section says it “Includes churches, temples, synagogues, monasteries, religious retreats, and other places of religious worship and other fraternal and community service organizations.”
This seems to be all about extorting money from city residents, because a “conditional use permit” costs money, and residents must pay the city to get one. The Fromms reportedly face additional fines of $500 per meeting for any further “religious gatherings” in their home.
Clearly, local ordinances that have the effect of prohibiting the free exercise of religious expression in such a private manner stand in stark opposition to our Constitution, and must be changed.