This is the kind of story that makes one wonder if certain public officials got their ideas about city administration from Beijing or Soviet Moscow. According to The Church Report, the city of Rancho Cucamonga, certain religious activities in homes require a special permit, one that they’ve already said they won’t give:

A city in Southern California is demanding that a small home Bible study group stop meeting because it does not have an expensive permit. The permit is not required for similar-sized gatherings in homes, such as book clubs, birthday parties, or gatherings centered around sporting events. City officials have also indicated that they might not even grant a permit if it is requested.

The City of Rancho Cucamonga has sent a letter to the homeowner insisting that the home Bible study is not allowed because it is a “church,” and churches require a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) in residential areas. The City has also indicated that no CUP would be granted and the gatherings must cease by Good Friday, April 2. CUP’s require public hearings and regularly require the applicants to obtain traffic studies, architectural design reviews and even seismic retrofits.

In California, the process often costs churches hundreds of thousands of dollars-which probably explains why it is almost never applied to informal gatherings in homes.

“Imposing a CUP requirement on a home Bible study is manifestly absurd and unjust,” said Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute. “I don’t know of a single court in America that would approve their actions. We will give the City a chance to rescind its letter without litigation, but we are fully prepared to take this as far as is necessary to defend this Bible study group–and countless others like it.”

According to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, the city is saying it’s the neighbors’ fault:

City officials said Tuesday they received a complaint in February from the homeowner’s neighbor that between 40 and 60 people were gathering in the house on Friday nights.

The city did, in fact, notify the homeowner through a letter that a permit was needed to operate a church, said Kurt J. Keating, code enforcement supervisor for the city.

“There’s also some supporting facts that they are advertising themselves as a church over the public domain, such as the Internet,” Keating said.

The city is not trying to place restrictions on home Bible studies, but the group cannot hold church services in a residence, Keating said.

I’m no mathematical wizard or police detective, but I would think it a simple matter to determine whether 40-60 or 15 people are meeting in a home on a regular basis. Given that the story doesn’t say that the city bothered to check the accuracy of the neighbor’s complaint, it sounds to me like they simply took the neighbor’s word for it. Then, they arrogated to themselves the ability to distinguish between “Bible studies” and “church services,” a novel power for city officials to possess under either the free exercise or establishment clause of the First Amendment. Then, they made clear that, even if the group went through the permit process, they wouldn’t get one. Put it all together, and it sounds like Rancho Cucamonga is run by people whose ideas about their own power vis-a-vis religious organizations would warm the cockles of any tyrant’s heart.

Let me put this as simply as I can: people have the right to practice their faith in their own home, and to open their home to others to do the same. Governments can enforce regulations regarding the use of public property such as parking in streets, but they can no more tell you what kind of religious activities you can do in your own home (as long as they don’t violate laws that have nothing to do with religion–for instance, sacrificing children to Moloch is prohibited regardless of the religious component) than they can mandate the color you can paint your rumpus room. If a group is violating parking regulations, the government should say that, rather than arrogate to itself the power to decide which religious gatherings pass muster and which don’t.

(Via Layman Online.)

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