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Federal judge rules in favor of Oregon church that was restricted from serving meals to the homeless

A federal judge has blocked an Oregon city from limiting the number of days local churches can feed the homeless.

The ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed against the city of Brookings by the Oregon Justice Resource Center on behalf of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in 2022.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke ruled Wednesday that a 2021 Brookings-approved ordinance limiting churches to two “charitable meal services” per week violated the Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, according to portland station. currency.

He explained that the ordinance forced the church to choose between practicing its faith or avoiding the city's exorbitant fines.

“Here, it is indisputable that St. Timothy's offers or hosts a charitable meal service three to four times a week, and in the past, St. Timothy's has provided a benevolent meal service up to six times a week. The clergy and members of St. Timothy have provided food to the hungry for more than a decade, and believe it is a central tenet of their faith to do so,” he wrote.

“By limiting the number of days per week that St. Timothy's can offer benevolent meal service, the ordinance forces plaintiffs to choose between acting on their faith or facing a $720 fine per day. Thus, the ordinance puts “substantial pressure” on the “plaintiffs” to modify their behavior and violate their beliefs,” he added.

In accordance with The Oregon oneClarke also questioned why none of the city's other businesses/operations, including the golf courses and hospitals, were also required to comply with the ordinance.

“It's not clear why a church that serves meals to the public for free would be considered a 'restaurant' under the city's zoning laws, but a golf course or bed and breakfast that serves meals for a fee would not,” he said.

“This glaring inconsistency undermines the idea that without the Ordinance and a conditional use permit, St. Timothy's would not be able to serve meals. If other non-single-family residential uses can serve meals without restrictions, why not a church?

Clarke concluded his sentence by criticizing the city for enacting the ordinance and praising the church for being there to help the community.

“In line with his faith and with the full awareness of the city, St. Timothy has served vulnerable people in the community for decades, even during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic when there were few, if any, other resources accessible in the area,” he wrote .

“The clergy and the congregation of Sant Timoteu have shown that they are prepared to work with the city to serve those in need, while preserving the livability of the area for its neighbors by collaborating with law enforcement when be necessary . The homeless are not “vagrants”, they are citizens in need. This is a time for collaboration, not ill-conceived ordinances that restrict care and resources for vulnerable people in our communities,” he added.

The Rev. Bernie Lindley, the vicar of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, was pleased with the sentence.

“Ever since I saw it, I've been smiling,” he told The Oregonian. “I'm very happy to hear that the judge was very understanding of our position.”

But why did the city ever pass such a controversial ordinance to begin with? It is reported because of pandemic-era crimes.

The Oregonian notes that in April 2021, Brookings received a petition from a local resident asking city officials to “reconsider allowing homeless people to continue to live and congregate” at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church because of all the increasing crime, including vandalism.

“Brandon Usry, who lives across the street from the front of the church, [said] who started the petition because of the increase in crime in the neighborhood,” The Oregonian notes. “He said he put up surveillance cameras and called often[ed] police because of drug use, public nudity and fighting outside the church.”

Meanwhile, former Brookings Mayor Ron Hedenskog said in a court filing that a cap on the church's meal service could help alleviate those problems.

Members of the public responded to Clarke's decision by praising her but also wondering what the hell the city was thinking trying to force her to serve only a certain number of meals.

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Federal judge rules in favor of Oregon church that was restricted from serving meals to the homeless
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