Home Bible Study in San Diego Shut Down… Then Resurrected

The headlines I read a couple days ago said that county officials in San Diego were trying to prevent Pastor David Jones and his wife Mary from holding a Bible study in their home.

But that couldn’t be right. That sounds like the Christian Right’s distorted “I’m the victim! I’m the victim!” version of what happened. What was the real story?

You definitely don’t get it all from the KGTV news station:

Attorney Dean Broyles of The Western Center For Law & Policy was shocked with what happened to the pastor and his wife.

Broyles said, “The county asked, ‘Do you have a regular meeting in your home?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you say amen?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you pray?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you say praise the Lord?’ ‘Yes.’”

The county employee notified the couple that the small Bible study, with an average of 15 people attending, was in violation of County regulations, according to Broyles.

Broyles also said this case has broader implications.

“If the county thinks they can shut down groups of 10 or 15 Christians meeting in a home, what about people who meet regularly at home for poker night? What about people who meet for Tupperware parties? What about people who are meeting to watch baseball games on a regular basis and support the Chargers?” Broyles asked.

I’ll add: How is this different from a weekly book club meeting?

Again, that can’t be the whole story. If it is, I’m on this couple’s side. They have a right to Bible study. Hell, the ACLU would be on their side.

Then, I found out why the county was telling them to stop.

It had nothing to do with religion.

“This is a land issue,” [county Chief Administrative Officer Walt] Ekard stated, and not an issue of religious expression.

“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 had received complaints from a neighbor about traffic and parking issues resulting from the weekly Bible studies, Ekard noted.

Pastor Jones believes the complaint was prompted when a Bible study member hit the car belonging to a neighbor’s visitor. Jones paid for the car damage.

I’d be pissed off if my car was damaged in my own neighborhood… but still, to complain about the Bible study as a cause for this? That seems unnecessary.

As do the questions asked of the couple. Why would the officer ask if the group was praying? Saying “Amen”? Praising the Lord?

Ekard is reviewing the officer’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, Ekard said he will take action immediately.

It seems that the Joneses can continue holding the Bible study for the time being, until these issues are resolved.

Good. This is exactly what atheists should support: Private expression of religion, no tax exemptions, no proselytizing (at least no mention of it). Without more information, I’m not sure why some atheists are so adamant about this Bible study needing to be shut down.

I wonder, though: At what point should a house church be considered a full-blown church? Is it a matter of people or money or something else entirely?

(Thanks to Lexi for the link!)

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I support like-minded people’s right to assemble in small groups.

    My only nitpick is that from Christian tradition, 15 is usually considered as too large a group for a “small group” bible study. Most Christians would say that the group should split in two and have two separate meetings. When the group is that large, people start becoming spectators and not participants.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    I don’t have any problem with them meeting for studying, but the people arriving should work some kind of car-pool to keep the parking problems to a minimum, and for the obvious environmental reasons. I’ve lived over the road from some happy-clappies who would meet every week, and parking was always an issue around that time. Indeed, it shows lack of consideration for their neighbours.

  • Doris Tracey

    Well that sounds more like it. If the group is blocking traffic that is one thing and they should make other arrangements for their study group or get a permit like San Diego county stated. Maybe people could ride their bikes to the meeting or walk.The officer had no right to question their religious rights, and maybe he should go to the prayer meeting as a pennance.LOL

  • Miykael Poly

    I have nothing against them holding a bible study in a private home, but if there is going to be a large group people, you need to get a permit for having so many people over regularly.

    And do consider the effect you have on your neighbours. The damaged car might be just the straw that broke the camels back, regular parking problems for 5 years would seriously annoy me. And if after 5 years of irritation, some twerp coming over to the meeting would even scratch my car, I would get seriously pissed off.

    Religion is no excuse, you are not above the law, you want to hold a big bible study in a private home, you get the permit to do so.

  • http://superstitionfree.blogspot.com/ Robert Madewell

    I was alarmed when I get the alert from Don Wildmon in my email, I thought, “Oh NO! Now they can rightfully claim persecution and we’ll never hear the end of it.”

    I was almost tempted to sign Wildmons petition. I didn’t because he didn’t allow me to comment. The wording of the petition mentions a anti-christian slant and was targeted specifically to be signed by christians. I probably would have signed it if I was allowed to comment that I am an atheist and still support this couples right to meet.

    However, I was pretty sure that we wasn’t hearing the whole story. I think that they should be allowed to continue meeting, even if the parking is a pain in the butt and the members block driveways. If someone can stop christian meetings, they can stop freethought meeting as well.

  • Jude

    Some denominations only meet in homes. They take the “wherever two or more gathered in my name” thing seriously. My neighbor is in one of those churches. She also wears her hair long because of a prescription by Paul, the misogynist.

  • Stephan Goodwin

    This seems to be an over-inflated case. If San Diego has laws that limit the number of visitors or cars owned by visitors on a single street , then the Bible study should car pool or move to a different location. This reminds me of holding a block party…anyone can do it but you have to have permits first. Just saying you are religious, as Kent Hovid found out, does not get you out of the required taxes and permits.

    If however, the city does not have a formal code, then it has a question of religion and enforcement and should be healthily debated.

  • Andrew

    My dad was the attorney for our neighborhood when a local group of Chabad Jews tried to turn the house across the street into a local synagogue. It’s a fairly easy scam to do – you just say you’ve having people over for some religious ceremony and you don’t need to pay for your own worship space or care about the comfort and living of your neighbors or zoning regulations.

    Either these Christians are oblivious to the effects of their meetings (seriously, think about 15 people coming to the same house on your street at the same time every week and ask if that wouldn’t create an enormous nuisance) or they’re trying to run a church. The officer’s questions appear to be sounding out whether they’re running church services out of their home, not whether or not they’re religious.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    Are not Christians meant to be good neighbours? We all have to live and work together, and that means not blocking the street with all your cars once a week. It’s not being thoughtful of others. And stopping doing so doesn’t mean you have to stop your meetings. They could have a rota of 5 different houses in different areas, carpool, bike, walk etc. to ease the burden on their neighbours. It’s always good to keep noise, fuss and bother to a minimum when you live close to your neighbours. It’s the right thing to do.

    And none of this has to do with religion or supposed persecution, but plain common sense and how to live alongside other people happily.

  • SarahH

    Car-pooling is usually the answer to most problems. Lonely? Car-pool! Broke? Car-pool! Concerned about carbon emissions? Car-pool! Breaking city permits by holding a big Bible Study in a residential neighborhood? Car-pool!

    I agree though, it’s weird and wrong if the officer was asking them questions about their faith as part of the investigation. That’s nobody’s business.

  • http://brielle.sosdg.org brielle

    Are not Christians meant to be good neighbours?

    Not when they believe that their right to blast Christian music at 8am on Sunday morning trumps your right to sleep (and the no-noise ordinance).

    Oh, Hemant, I noticed the stuff like bold/italics/quote/etc buttons are gone. Was that done on purpose, or is it a bug?

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    Oh, Hemant, I noticed the stuff like bold/italics/quote/etc buttons are gone. Was that done on purpose, or is it a bug?

    It’ll be back up soon. We’re testing some different things with the server switch so glitches will be forthcoming all week :)

  • http://brielle.sosdg.org brielle

    It’ll be back up soon. We’re testing some different things with the server switch so glitches will be forthcoming all week.

    Awesome. Sorry about the questions, I just notice small changes in stuff.

    My own blog has had features broken for months because everyone thought I already knew about it. Yay for the web designer/php/linux developer in me.

  • Miko

    The permit-option espoused by some commentators above is, while workable in some Utopian world, nonetheless a dangerous one. Giving some outside group jurisdiction over meetings like that is a necessarily totalitarian idea that is likely to be abused (as is demonstrated by the questions asked by the police in this case) in addition to having the potential to violate privacy (if I want to invite people over to my property, it’s no business of the state why I do so). It won’t be long before a case comes up in which fifteen Christians get a permit denied to five atheists, or the state starts demanding lists of those attending.

    This also ties in with the problem of land-use regulation (that, among other problems, has led to the death of the inner-city neighborhood grocery store, eminent domain abuse where property is seized from the poor to benefit large corporations through rezoning, and a large uptick in long-distance suburban commuting). The same “blocking traffic” argument is used to prevent commercial enterprise within “residential zones,” even in cases in which no traffic is involved (e.g., one tenant of a building running a day care for the others) in order to systematically quash entrepreneurship among the urban poor.

    In all seriousness, couldn’t the neighbors come up with any better solution to this problem than calling the police? Human beings are rational agents and naturally cooperative; look at the variety of ideas suggested above, such as house-rotating, carpooling, and splitting into two groups. Resorting to a coercive and potentially violent solution (the state and the police) shows a decided lack of creativity on the parts of those involved. While legitimate legal issues may pop up between neighbors, most of us have the good sense and common courtesy to make a good-faith attempt to resolve them through voluntary means.

  • Tom

    This story is so much like something that happened to me, I’m surprised to see that the names aren’t the same.

    About 25 years ago, my father and I had both had long weeks, and then we spent saturday doing extensive housework. Sunday morning we were both trying to catch up on some much-needed sleep.

    However, we were awakened at about 8:30am by loud music pouring in our windows. Loud wishy washy christian rockish music. It woke us both up, and we groggily got up to investigate.

    The music was coming from our neighbor’s house. Now, I should point out that we lived not in a city, but in the country, and there was a good 50+ feet of separation between our house and the neighbor’s. Further, our bedrooms were on the far opposite end of our home from that neighbor, with our open windows (it was summer) facing directly away from that neighbor. But the music was not only audible, it was loud enough to wake us, and prevent us from going back to sleep. It was unquestionably excessive.

    Further, we found that there were a bunch of cars parked on our lawn and in our driveway, and they sure weren’t ours. They were probably there because the neighbor’s lawn and driveway were already full.

    It seems that the wacko fundamentalists who lived next door had finally decided that Assembly Of God churches weren’t wacko fundamentalist enough for them, and started their own church in their basement.

    Now, we’d always thought they were a bit kooky, but nice enough neighbors, so my father waited until the end of their 3 or 4 hour long, quite loud, festival of christian wackyness to go over and ask them very politely to please make sure their guests do not park on our lawn or driveway, and please either keep the volume down or start after 10am. The neighbors were very polite about the car thing but, I’m told, got very rude about the suggestion that they ought to try to let us get some sleep in our own home in the relatively early hours of a weekend morning, and ended up basically ordering my father off the property.

    The next sunday, it all happened again. Only this time, my father walked over immediately after we were awakened to ask them to move the cars, and when they told him they’d move the cars “after church”, which would be some hours later, and to please leave… he called the police, who arrived with a tow truck and started towing cars away. A bunch of angry christians poured out of the house next door to scream at the police, and ended up rapidly moving their cars. An angry confrontation then occurred, which ended when the police made plain that they would be delighted to assist my father by towing any extraneous cars that showed up on his property in the future. My father also asked about doing something about the noise from the new church, but they refused to intervene and left.

    This went on for another couple weeks, with another couple calls to the police – it seems the christians had decided to go right ahead and park on our lawn until the cops showed up, at which time they came running out of the house to move their cars, making it plain that they knew they were breaking the law and were watching for the cops.

    My father made some phone calls, and as his request slowly wound its way through the bureaucracy of small town city hall, we eventually got word that our street was not zoned for a church, and that there were too many cars parked at the neighbor’s for a property not listed as a parking lot, and that the fire marshall agreed that there were probably too many people in a house that does not have a sprinkler system, and yes, if what we had described was in fact taking place they would do something about it. So, that sunday, the service got started and woke us up as usual, but shortly afterward a bunch of city officials showed up and, finding it exactly as my father described, broke the whole thing up. Nobody was arrested, nobody was fined, but it was made plain that if they wanted to have a church they were going to have to get a building that was zoned for it and had adequate parking and a sprinkler system. I’m told the neighbors had the gall to claim it wasn’t a church, that it was just a few friends had dropped by for a bible study, but that the town officials weren’t buying that. I’m told there was a lot of screaming about violating their religious rights, and accusations that my father was persecuting them, but fortunately the town officials just did their job and that was that.

    Within a week, a for-sale sign appeared on those neighbors’ lawn, which was just fine with us. They never spoke with us again… which was just fine with us too.

    So imagine you are awakened every week, early in the morning on sunday, by a church that isn’t supposed to be there and which you never agreed to live next to, which is using unreasonable amounts of amplification in a relatively small private home on a quiet country street. You ask them politely to do something reasonable about the noise, and they angrily accuse you of oppressing them and throw you off the property. You want to just get away from it, and decide to go out to a diner for breakfast, but you can’t because their cars are filling your driveway and blocking your exit, and they won’t do anything about that either. And when you call the police to get their cars removed, the christians play silly games with parking on your property anyway and waiting for the cops to arrive to move their cars. How would you feel?

  • http://brielle.sosdg.org brielle

    And when you call the police to get their cars removed, the christians play silly games with parking on your property anyway and waiting for the cops to arrive to move their cars.

    Two words: Spike strips. :)

    Though, these days, the whole thing of being considerate to your neighbor seems to be going out the window.

    The problem is, at least from what I am seeing here in Boise, is that the religious types are (for lack of a better word) butthurt about Obama being elected, and will knowingly go out of their way to create issues with people who are perceived as being liberals/democrats. Its like, they feel they have a right to be assholes just because they didn’t get their way.

    Of course, these same people are the ones who called the democrats/liberals unpatriotic because we protested Bush’s delusional behavior. Funny how the shoe is on the other foot.

  • Desert Son

    Hemant posted:

    }}”It’ll be back up soon. We’re testing some different things with the server switch so glitches will be forthcoming all week”

    Ah, now I wish I’d read this earlier, before I went and posted a long response in another thread fully expecting html tags to magically appear.

    Serves me right for not looking into the issue first.

    No kings,

    Robert

  • Leny

    The article does not say that the people were parked in the neighbors private yards. If they are parked along the street and there are no ordinances to stop people from parking along a street, then the “traffic” problem is just something the neighbors are going to have to deal with. If there is 15 people gathered, you can assume that couples drove together and I would expect at most, 10 cars. We regularly have 15 or more people gathered at our home for different reasons. That really isn’t many people even in a small home.
    I am afraid that our government already has too much authority and would hate for them to tell us who and when we can gather in our own homes.
    Also, the article says NOTHING about them playing loud music.
    I can see where this would potentially be a serious threat to EVERYONES rights.

  • Vespa

    Okay…it takes all kinds of people to make up the world, Christians, Muslins, Atheist, Jews, Catholics, Asians, African Americans, Italians…and the list goes on and on and this I KNOW…everyone, everybody…has atleast one time in their lives offended someone. So enough with the wishy washy Christians…everybody could point a finger at their neighbor and maybe recount an offense. No one is perfect, so for those who aren’t Christians, maybe you woke someone up with your “music” and had your friends park cars in front of others home for Superbowl Sunday or a Party…The real solution is working towards a solution for parking, however no group should be told they can’t have a group over of any kind or be asked questions about their worship. NO one should be told they can’t have a group of people over for WHATEVER…… REMEMBER AMERICA THE FREE…not a select group…but everyone is free …heck there’s people that have sex parties in there homes and parking is a mess and nobody seems to care….oops…unless they say…..PRAISE THE LORD.. watch out
    PS watch out Superbowl Party Fans…you might not be able to host a party…or PRAY FOR YOUR TEAM TO WIN

  • Kdk

    I’m delighted to find your website and learn from your writers. A friend alerted me to the San Diego home bible study issue and I wanted to find out more as I would like to host a home bible study or even a home “church”. I’m so sorry for the bad experiences people have had as neighbors to these events. I definitely am a cycling/walking proponent too and plan to be a sensitive, listening neighbor if/when we do host a community group.


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