An Episcopal diocese is suing the city of Brookings, Oregon over a city ordinance it says restricts its ability to act on its faith and provide ministry and care to the local homeless community.
“Plaintiffs now face the decision of whether to exercise their core religious beliefs or face enforcement action by the City. Plaintiffs intend to continue exercising their core religious beliefs and serving meals at St. Timothy’s four days per week,” the lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon and St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church reads, as reported by The Christian Post.
Last year, Brookings City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that restricts entities like St. Timothy’s from operating soup kitchens more than two days per week in addition to requiring a permit to provide such services to those in need.
The church has refused to abide by the city ordinance, arguing it is a matter of free exercise of religion to provide hot meals to members of the homeless community.
“Plaintiffs do not intend to restrict their religious exercise to two days or fewer per week because the community need is greater than serving meals only twice per week,” the lawsuit states.
St. Timothy’s Rev. Bernie Lindley vowed last year to defy the ordinance on these grounds.
“This is the way we express our religion, by feeding people,” Rev. Bernie Lindley told Oregon Public Broadcasting in November.
Lindley said he believed the church had a First Amendment right to feed the homeless and obey their Christian calling to minister to those in need, and that the city would have to forcibly detain him if they hoped to prevent him from doing so.
“We’re not going to stop feeding,” he also said. “They’re going to have to handcuff me and take me to jail, which they won’t do. So it’s not going to happen; we’re not going to stop feeding. We’re going to do what Christ compels us to do.”
This sentiment was echoed by the bishop of the Oregon diocese, Rt. Rev. Diana Akiyama, who said in a statement on January 28 that the church is “obeying the teachings of Jesus when they provide food and medical care to their community.”
According to the lawsuit, the city acted on the premise that the church’s homeless ministry caused disturbances in the neighborhood and that residents complained of the “the congregation of vagrants or undesirables” at St. Timothy’s.
Yet serving these people is exactly what the leaders of St. Timothy’s feel led to do.
“As Christians, we are called by faith to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger. Providing hospitality to all who enter St. Timothy’s in search of help is integral to our beliefs,” Akiyama said.
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