San Diego County Backs Off Threat to Shut Down Bible Study
July 6, 2009 by Bob Livingston
Score one, at least temporarily, for the First Amendment, which has been revived after what seemed a death blow in California.
In San Diego, county officials have reneged on their demand that a preacher and his wife discontinue weekly Bible studies in their home until they obtain a Major Use Permit, a process that costs tens of thousands of dollars.
According to news reports out of San Diego, Pastor David Jones and his wife Mary were interrogated by a county official and then threatened with increasing fines if they continued holding their Tuesday night Bible studies. The studies regularly drew about 15 people.
Attorney Dean Broyles of The Western Center for Law and Policy told 10 News television the county official asked:
- Do you have a regular meeting in your home?
- Do you say amen?
- Do you pray?
- Do you say “Praise the Lord?”
They answered in the affirmative on all four questions. The official then told the couple they were in violation of county regulations. A few days later they received a written warning that listed “unlawful use of land” and told them to “stop religious assembly or apply for a major use permit,” according to Broyles.
Reports of the county’s actions drew howls of protest from liberty-minded groups and received a lot of attention in the blogosphere, as well they should. As a group, government bureaucrats lack any kind of common sense. That one would attempt to shut down a home Bible study demonstrates a lack of understanding or lack of education about our country’s founding and what led to the establishment of our nation’s Bill of Rights.
The hue and cry from freedom-loving Americans obviously worked. On May 29, County Chief Administrative Officer Walt Ekard issued a statement saying the Bible study could continue.
“I have received dozens of emails and calls from people concerned about reports that the county is attempting to muzzle religious expression by shutting down a neighborhood Bible study. As chief administrative officer for San Diego County, I want to say in the most direct terms: the county has never tried to stifle religious expression and never will,” Ekard said.
“More importantly, let me be clear: religious intolerance in any form is not, and never will be, allowed under any circumstance in San Diego County government,” he said.
As encouraging as it is that the county reversed itself, nothing in Ekard’s statement addresses the questions asked by a county official about what the Joneses were doing in their home.
It’s none of the county’s business what the Joneses were doing in their home, and the questions about whether they were saying amen, praying and praising the Lord should have been answered with a slammed door.
So, religious freedom in America has withstood, for now at least, another attack. But stay vigilant. The agents of tyranny are persistent.