RFRA Used to Defend Feeding the Homeless

A chef in San Antonio was given a $2000 citation for feeding the homeless from a food truck in a public park, something she has been doing for many years. According to the local press, she plans on challenging that citation in court citing that state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Joan Cheever, founder of the nonprofit mobile food truck known as the Chow Train, was cited last Tuesday by San Antonio police officers for feeding the homeless in Maverick Park…

Over the years, police officers have passed by and waved as she fed homeless people, but last Tuesday night four bike-patrol officers stopped in the park and gave Cheever a ticket that carries a potential fine of $2,000. Cheever has a food permit for her mobile truck, but she was cited for transporting and serving the food from a vehicle other than that truck.

Cheever is scheduled to go before Municipal Court on June 23, but she remained defiant after receiving the citation, arguing that under the 1999 Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, she has a right to serve food to the homeless because she considers it a free exercise of her religion.

Part of me wants to applaud because at least a RFRA law will be used to defend something good rather than something bad or discriminatory, but I’m still opposed to using this as a basis for challenging the citation (it’s the only tool she has, so I’m not blaming her for using it). The law itself is a terrible one and needs to be repealed, but it simply is not reasonable to argue that she should be able to violate that law only because of her religious beliefs. If Austin Atheists Feeding the Homeless faced the same citation, they would not have the same means of getting out of it. If it’s wrong to prevent people from feeding the homeless, it’s wrong for everyone, not only for the religious.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • John Pieret

    If Austin Atheists Feeding the Homeless faced the same citation, they would not have the same means of getting out of it.

    I’m not so sure of that. For first Amendment purposes, atheism is the equivalent of a religion.

  • ZugTheMegasaurus

    I really wish she would stop doing this. This has fuck-all to do with RFRA. There are places where they’re making it a crime to feed the homeless, and in those cases, this would be brilliant. That’s not what this is about. No one is stopping her from feeding the homeless. They’re stopping her from transporting and serving food in an unpermitted vehicle, and she’s really got no excuse to fall back on because she has a permitted food truck. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather not let her flout food safety regulations just because she’s only giving that food to the homeless (which is a really gross mindset).

  • eric

    Similar to @2 but coming at it from a different angle: she may lose despite the RFRA, because the court could find that it is not a ‘substantial burden’ to require that she give out food from her truck rather than her personal vehicle.

  • StevoR

    How can you NOT defend feeding the homeless? For Fucks and Pity’s and Jesuses fucken sake!

  • StevoR

    .. And all the other obscenities and Rhetorical question.

  • dingojack

    Quick Quiz: What was the so-called ‘sin of Sodom’?

    @@ Dingo

  • Tony! The Queer Shoop

    StevoR:

    Read the damn article again. Or read comment #2. She is doing a good thing, but she still has to follow the food safety guidelines.

  • StevoR

    Cruelty & inhospitability to strangers?

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Thank God the men and women of our Legislative and Law Enforcement groups are willing to stand up and prevent people from helping the less fortunate.

  • StevoR

    @ 7. Tony! The Queer Shoop : Okay. Will do. (#8 was replying to #6 dingojack.)

  • Donnie

    If Austin Atheists Feeding the Homeless faced the same citation, they would not have the same means of getting out of it. If it’s wrong to prevent people from feeding the homeless, it’s wrong for everyone, not only for the religious.

    They could also argue that their religion is humanism and feeding and helping others is part of their humanistic belief. Still, the fact that cities are preventing Christians from following their beliefs because “fuck the poor” per the Roman Senate in “The History of the World Part I”.

  • abb3w

    @0, Ed Brayton

    The law itself is a terrible one and needs to be repealed, but it simply is not reasonable to argue that she should be able to violate that law only because of her religious beliefs.

    Politically, the RFRA seems a terrible law that should be repealed. Contrariwise, the RFRA is indeed law; and until it is repealed, legally it seems entirely reasonable for her to try to argue that the food safety laws and permitting process are not sufficiently narrowly tailored in support of compelling governmental interest to be exempt from an RFRA burden challenge.

    Nohow, “food safety” probably suffices to constitute “compelling governmental interest”, even in Texas. Ergo, for her argument to be viable, it would seem to depend on being able to convince the court of existence of some less restrictive means to further that interest — EG, allow such permits to be issued for no charge for religious distributions that do not collect money or donations in return; allow on-the-spot food safety inspections of non-permitted distributions, issuing such no-charge permits if there are no violations that endanger food safety for those eating it.

  • Chiroptera

    Is she a Catholic? ‘Cause I seem to recall the Hierarchy viewing feeding the poor as a waste of time when you should be spending all your time hating gays and abortions.

  • moarscienceplz

    it’s just me, but I’d rather not let her flout food safety regulations just because she’s only giving that food to the homeless (which is a really gross mindset).

    Yes, exactly. I’m sure she felt that the end justified cutting corners a bit, and I’m sure she didn’t feel that it’s OK to be lax with food safety because they are “only” homeless people, but food safety regulations exist for a reason and need to be obeyed at all times.

  • Chiroptera

    moarscienceplz, #14: …but food safety regulations exist for a reason….

    Huh. I thought the reason was because socialists want to drive Christian American businesses into bankruptcy with overly burdensome regulations.

  • DaveL

    @12,14

    I think the point is that the focus should be on the government’s purported compelling interest, how compelling it is, and whether it might be achieved by less restrictive means – not whether or not it conflicts with any person’s beliefs, which may or may not have any basis in reality.

  • dingojack

    Chiroptera (#13) – the ol’ ‘the poor will always be with you…’ Christian apologetics at work.

    (Not on your part – on theirs).

    @@ Dingo

  • kenn

    It’s Texas, Ed. That law isn’t going to be repealed in yours, your children’s, or your children’s children’s lifetimes.

  • grumpyoldfart

    The truck with the permit has passed all the test for cleanliness and it can be checked from time to time to make sure that it stays that way.

    Who knows what condition the other truck is in.

    What happens if there is a salmonella outbreak? The health authorities start checking all the trucks with food permits and find nothing so the outbreak continues. Meanwhile the source of the problem is in the unregistered truck which the health authorities never check because they don’t even know it exists.

    She deserves to be fined for playing loose and free with our health.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    The rule under which she was cited, right or wrong, was the kind of regulation that local governments regularly make to ensure things like food safety, free flow of traffic, honest business practices, etc. If she succeeds in using RFRA to beat this law, then RFRA can be used to get around just about all other forms of regulations. Anyone (or, at the very least, anyone in the majority religion) will be able to use RFRA to get around any law or regulation they don’t like. And I’m pretty sure this is not a bug, it’s a feature.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Over the years, police officers have passed by and waved as she fed homeless people, but last Tuesday night four bike-patrol officers stopped in the park and gave Cheever a ticket that carries a potential fine of $2,000. Cheever has a food permit for her mobile truck, but she was cited for transporting and serving the food from a vehicle other than that truck.

    Does this article mention that the cops passed and waved when she was using the permitted truck? Or did they leave that fact out in order to perpetuate the myth of capricious overzealous regulators?

  • http://composer99.blogspot.ca composer99

    It’s pretty clear from the linked article and the selection quoted by Ed that what Cheever was cited for was not serving food to the homeless per se, but rather for doing so without using her certified/licensed/permitted truck.

    I’m curious why she could not have simply served the food from her licensed truck (the linked article does not go into detail on this point).

    At any rate, I would have to say that Cheever winning her challenge would set a terrible precedent, however good her intent.

  • abb3w

    @16ish, DaveL

    I think the point is that the focus should be on the government’s purported compelling interest, how compelling it is, and whether it might be achieved by less restrictive means – not whether or not it conflicts with any person’s beliefs, which may or may not have any basis in reality.

    Politically, perhaps it should be — though that’s debatable. (If the courts focus in part on whether there’s a conflict and find none, there’s no controversy, and thus no justiciable question, and the argument should be tossed.) However, that’s not an argument about what the law currently says should be done, but rather what the law should be saying.