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May 28, 2009

San Diego County Officials Try to Shut Down Small Home Bible Study Group

No arrests, thankfully, but an "interrogation" and cease-and-desist type letters.

A local pastor and his wife claim they were interrogated by a San Diego County official, who then threatened them with escalating fines if they continued to hold bible studies in their home, 10News reported.

Attorney Dean Broyles of The Western Center For Law & Policy was shocked with what happened to the pastor and his wife.

Broyles said, "The county asked, 'Do you have a regular meeting in your home?' She said, 'Yes.' 'Do you say amen?' 'Yes.' 'Do you pray?' 'Yes.' 'Do you say praise the Lord?' 'Yes.'"

The county employee notified the couple that the small bible study, with an average of 15 people attending, was in violation of county regulations, according to Broyles.

Broyles said a few days later the couple received a written warning that listed "unlawful use of land" and told them to "stop religious assembly or apply for a major use permit" -- a process that could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

"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.

News of the case has rapidly spread across Internet blogs and has spurred various reactions.

Ah. So I'm late again.

Thanks to DrewM., who plucked it off Andy Levy's twitter feed.

Outrage Withheld? Yah, I didn't really want to push the outrage button myself, not yet anyway. Bumperstickerist writes:

The article didn't mention the frequency of the "small bible studies" which leaves open the possibility that there are two bible study groups per day every day. If I'm a neighbor and there are a dozen cars parked out front of the pastor's house every day, all week, you can be damn well sure I'll be inquiring as to why.

So, for the sake of argument, the pastor could be running a de facto church out of his house.

We had a similar story a while back about a family that was forced to remove some baseball equipment from its yard and cease baseball practice for local youth. It was the heartbreaking saga about kids dreams being crushed by mean people.

Then the mean person wrote a letter saying "Look, we like baseball, but this guy has 30-40 kids over everyday, they're doing full practices, batting cages, fielding coaches, instruction, and it just.never.stops. You try living next to that for more than two weeks and see how you do. We'd like to enjoy our deck and our yard on occasion."

So, I'll withhold my Anger at the MAN until I find out about the other stuff.

The Atom Bomb of Loving Kindness writes:

You can't run a church out of your house. The guy is described as a 'pastor.' If he's a pastor, then why not have the Bible things at the church he is the pastor of? It sounds like the house is the church. I live in a townhouse. If one of my neighbors starts having 15+ people over every weekend and sometimes during the week (which makes me walk a block to get into my house) then you can bet I'll be complaining. There's liability and safety issues, too.

Ah, good point, but you don't need a church to be a pastor.

Regarding the car parking situation: Can't neighbors and the officials suggest the congregants car-pool to avoid congestion? Who knows, maybe that was suggested but the suggestion was ignored.

Headline Corrected. Right, "cops" wasn't specified. A dumb assumption on my part. Or trying to condense the headline, but inaccurately so.


More Detail: Again, from Drew. A neighbor called the authorities after his car was hit.

Pastor David Jones has been hosting weekly Bible studies at his Bonita home during the past five years. About 15 people attend the meetings, he told 10News.

Jones said a visitor to a neighbor's house called the County after a Bible study member hit the visitor’s car while leaving. Shortly after, a county code enforcement officer gave him a citation that said he needed a permit to host the weekly Bible study meetings, he said.

Doesn't really push the story one way or the other. Yeah, sucks that someone hit the guy's car, but usually that's handled by exchanging insurance information.

In the Comments: Zoning a-Go-Go! Zoning always gets people stirred up like hornets. It's a non-sexy non-red-meat topic that nevertheless generates strong passions.

I side more with the zoners. Then again, I have never owned property and so haven't been the victim of vindictive and corrupt zoning boards and asinine rules, either.

A lot of people will say a man's home is his castle, etc., and he's free to enjoy his property however he likes, but that studiously avoids the question.

If you're in your castle, and the guy in the neighboring castle is blasting Jay-Z (or Richard Marx-- whichever you believe to be worse) at all hours of the night and morning, isn't his free enjoyment of his castle infringing on your putatively-absolute right to free enjoyment of yours?

In rural areas this is less of an issue. (And yet still an issue -- you don't want a guy using his property for a pig-reduction factory, churning out smoke and the stink of burned fat, a half-mile from your residence.) But in the suburbs and especially in the cities, residences are stacked so closely on top of each other that what would be unobjectionable in the countryside becomes a nuisance.

A half-mile of physical distance reduces most noise (and many smells) to a bearable level. Plus, no concerns about parking or congestion. But the situation changes when that very-useful half-mile of physical buffer doesn't exist, when houses are mere feet from each other, or when apartments share a common wall or floor.

This is among the most nettlesome areas of the law. There is an argument to be made that zoning itself is unconstitutional, as it is a "taking" of certain rights of land use without any compensation by the government at all; but that argument has been long rejected. I think the pretext for deeming it constitutional was that it was not a "taking," but just a regulation, and further, it was a regulation that secured for you an equal quantum of reciprocal rights. Sure, you're not allowed to open up a factory in a zoned-residential area, but neither is your neighbor. Your right to open a factory is taken away, but in return you gain the right to not have your neighbor damage your property by opening a factory.

Furthermore, without zoning, in a regime of property rights absolutism, you would in fact bear the risk that your nice family residence would be rendered all but unlivable just because your neighbor decides he wants to use his house as a strip club.

And then you get into arcane discussions about the Coase Theorem.

Like democracy, zoning is the very worst of all possible regimes, except for all the others.


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