This article originally appeared on WND.com
Guest by post by Bob Unruh
American city looking to put kibosh on program
The Department of Justice has issued a statement of interest in a fight going on in Oregon between a church whose members want to give food to their community members and a city that wants to restrict that activity.
“Many churches and faith-based organizations across the country are on the front lines serving the critical needs of people experiencing hunger and homelessness,” explained Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Discriminatory zoning restrictions that burden and limit religious organizations’ use of their land violate federal antidiscrimination laws. The Justice Department is committed to enforcing federal civil rights laws to ensure that all religious groups can freely exercise their religious beliefs.”
The fight is raging in U.S. District Court over the decision by the city of Brookings to restrict the activities of St. Timothy’s church.
The church has sued, claiming the city imposed a substantial burden on its religious service with an ordinance that bans the church from serving free meals to people in need more than two days per week.
At issue appear to be violations of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
The DOJ reported for more than a decade before the new city limit, the church provided meal service up to six days per week, even during the COVID pandemic, based on the needs in the community.
The church confirms it has a religious duty to provide help.
The DOJ noted the city claimed RLUIPA did not apply to the city’s actions against St. Timothy’s and that the ordinance did not substantially burden St. Timothy’s religious exercise.
The church’s arguments are the opposite, that RLUIPA does apply and serving meals to the need is a protected religious exercise.
RLUIPA is a federal law that protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations.
WND previously reported the Episcopal Diocese in Oregon is joining St. Timothy’s in the dispute.
“We’ve been serving our community here for decades and picking up the slack where the need exists and no one else is stepping in,” the Rev. Bernie Lindley said in a statement at the time the dispute developed.
Copyright 2023 WND News Center
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