Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A San Diego Bible Study and Us

Over in San Diego county, apparently the zealous authorities have decided to come down on a pastor and his wife who hold a Bible study at their home for about 15 people. Apparently, it is the considered opinion of the county that doing so constitutes an unlawful use of land, and is demanding that they apply for a major use permit, which could run north of $10,000 to obtain.

I hope the implications for the pagan and heathen communities are obvious.

Just this past weekend, we held a New Moon offering ceremony at my home, and had a dozen people. That's something that I do every month, and my wife does her own Full Moon ceremony, plus the regular eight Sabbats of the year. (She and her coven have their sacred space on our property, and I have a separate one for purely Germanic activities.) If our own local authorities wanted to (and, of course, if the local statues applied), we could just as easily be hit with such a demand. The mere fact that government, at any level, thinks it has authority to prevent religious assemblies at private homes, is chilling. The fact that this couple seems to have been singled out specifically because theirs was a religious gathering, is even moreso. I have not been able to find any rash of demands for pool-party use permits.

Naturally, scale is important, as is context. A dozen or fifteen people once or twice a month is one thing. Fifty people a week could well be a different thing, but in a relatively spread-out area where there aren't neighbors right on top of you to be discomfited by the additional traffic, maybe not so much.

Aside from the Constitutional arguments (most especially the First Amendment), the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIA) provides specific protection for such use, explicitly weakening the power of municipalities to zone out religious land-use.

For the pagan and heathen communities, this could be of extraordinary importance, especially given the fact that few of us have dedicated religious properties aside from our homes. If local officials feel that they have the power to use their local zoning authority to squelch a relatively popular activity such as a Christian Bible study, then one can only imagine how such a tool could be used against a relatively unpopular religious group. All it could take is one neighbor with a grudge against those crazy pagans who chant at the moon once a month, and a sympathetic bureaucrat, to bring on months of hassle at the very least.

The pagan and heathen communities should support this pastor and his wife, and their fundamental right to hold, within reason, religious gatherings, classes, and other activities in their private home. In this case, their fight is ours, and unless they have some explicitly anti-pagan ministry (their names have not yet been published, so it's impossible to know), we should stand with them.

3 comments:

  1. I couldn't agree more. This is a First Amendment issue of the highest level, and demonstrating good will in an ecumenical spirit of mutual aid would be a good gesture.

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  2. The couple involved were the Pastor David Jones and his wife, Mary. One the study attendees apparently dinged a neighbor’s car, which caused the neighbor to file a complaint. An office from the Department of Planning and Land Use issued investigated, and then issued a warning in April. The county overturned the warning in late May. Chandra Wallar, the county’s general land use manager, said the land-use code doesn’t specify a threshold and needs to be clarified.

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  3. How about throwing out the damn code and letting common law govern this? The replacement of common law suits with codes just means the strangling out of freedoms by narrow-minded bureaucrats. The common law standard means that someone has to be upset ENOUGH that they're willing to take it to court, not just to squeal and tattle over the telephone, which really requires little courage.

    The point is that people should, as a matter of course, be courteous to their neighbors, but there should be due allowance for regular activities of life. The State should not be allowed to interfere with genuine festivities, assemblies, and worship services of the people.

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