RFRA Used to Defend Feeding the Homeless

RFRA Used to Defend Feeding the Homeless April 27, 2015

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 The law itself is a terrible one and needs to be repealed, but it simply is not reasonable to argue that she should be able to violate that law only because of her religious beliefs.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