Faith California City Fines Couple for Holding Bible Study in Their Home
- Posted on September 19, 2011 at 1:36am by Madeleine Morgenstern
Photo via Flickr user Erwin Vogelaar
A southern California couple has been fined $300 dollars for holding Christian Bible study sessions in their home, and could face another $500 for each additional gathering.
City officials in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. say Chuck and Stephanie Fromm are in violation of municipal code 9-3.301, which prohibits “religious, fraternal or non-profit” organizations in residential neighborhoods without a permit. Stephanie hosts a Wednesday Bible study that draws about 20 attendees, and Chuck holds a Sunday service that gets about 50.
The Fromms appealed their citations but were denied and warned future sessions would carry heftier penalties. A statement from the Pacific Justice Institute, which is defending the couple in a lawsuit against the city, said Chuck Fromm was also told regular gatherings of three or more people require a conditional use permit, which can be costly and difficult to obtain.
“How dare they tell us we can’t have whatever we want in our home,” Stephanie Fromm told the Capistrano Dispatch. “We want to be able to use our home. We’ve paid a lot and invested a lot in our home and backyard … I should be able to be hospitable in my home.”
According to the Dispatch, the Fromms live in a neighborhood with large homes and have a corral, barn, pool and huge back lawn on their property, so parking and noise aren’t a problem.
“There’s no singing or music,” Stephanie said. “It’s meditative.”
The Dispatch reported a code-enforcement officer gave the Fromms a verbal warning about the meetings in May, then returned to issue citations in June and July. According to the paper, the city’s code-enforcement department is reactive, meaning they only respond to complaints.
Stephanie said most of their neighbors are very supportive, although she said one has voiced concerns in the past.
“We don’t like lawsuits, but we have to stand up for what’s right. It’s not just a personal issue,” she said. “Can you imagine anybody in any neighborhood, that one person can call and make it a living hell for someone else? That’s wrong … and it’s just sad.”
San Juan Capistrano’s religious roots run deep — the city is best known for a historic Catholic mission built in the 1700s.
“Imposing a heavy-handed permit requirement on a home Bible study is outrageous,” said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute. “An informal gathering in a home cannot be treated with suspicion by the government, or worse than any other gathering of friends, just because it is religious.”
“We cannot allow this to happen in America, and we will fight as long and as hard as it takes to restore this group’s religious freedom.”