A church pastor at the centre of a religious liberty row in America has been told he can continue holding Bible studies in his home while officials decide whether he needs a permit.
Officials respond to Bible study row
It emerged last week that officials from San Diego County, California, had threatened to shut down the informal gathering because it didn’t have a permit for a ‘religious assembly’.
In a warning letter, Pastor David Jones and his wife, Mary, were ordered to “cease/stop religious assembly on parcel or obtain major use permit.”
News of the official warning led to a flood of complaints that the County was stifling the free exercise of religion.
The County’s Chief Administrative Officer, Walt Ekard, has since backed away from the threat to close down the Bible study group.
He said: “I deeply regret that a routine code enforcement issue has transformed into a debate over religious freedom in San Diego County.”
He said the County “has never tried to stifle religious expression and never will.”
“This is a land issue,” he said, and not an issue of religious liberty.
According to reports, the investigation was sparked after a neighbour had complained about traffic and parking issues resulting from the weekly Bible study.
Pastor Jones believes the complaint was prompted when a Bible study member hit a car belonging to his neighbour’s visitor. Mr Jones paid for the car repairs.
But Mr Jones’ lawyer, Dean Broyles, believes the parking issue may be a smokescreen.
When an official first quizzed Mr Jones about the meeting, he demanded to know “Do you have a regular meeting in your home?”; “Do you say amen?”; “Do you pray?”; “Do you say praise the Lord?”.
Mr Ekard is reviewing the official’s actions and re-examining the policies and procedures the County uses “to deal with such complaints.”
If the officer is found to have acted inappropriately, Mr Ekard said he will take action immediately.
While the matter is being examined, Mr Jones and his wife have been told they can continue holding the weekly Bible studies at their home.