OAN’s Brooke Mallory
2:08 PM – Wednesday, January 24, 2024
After being accused of violating a local ordinance by providing housing for the homeless and others in need, a Christian pastor is now retaliating against an Ohio city.
The pastor of the church “Dad’s Place,” Chris Avell, was charged by Bryan, Ohio, police officers with eighteen counts of zoning violations at his church facility.
According to authorities, someone had reported the church since it did not “have the necessary secure exits, adequate ventilation, or suitable cooking and laundry facilities.”
Avell pleaded not guilty to the allegations.
Subsequently, on Monday, his church filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Bryan, claiming that the city had infringed upon the pastor’s fundamental rights to freedom of religion.
The church claims in its lawsuit that police still continue to harass and intimidate him and other church members in spite of the organization taking steps to resolve the city’s objections, such as installing a stove hood and opening a laundry facility.
Jeremy Dys, an attorney representing Avell and the church, expressed his suspicion that the city’s officials are against having any homeless ministry located in the midst of the town. He referred to it as a “not in my backyard” issue that his client’s action aims to recast as an examination of the constitutional rights to free religious exercise and protection from interference by the government.
“Nothing satisfies the city,” Dys said on Monday. “And worse, they go on a smear campaign of innuendo and half-truths.”
In addition, Dys said that the city was “creating problems in order to gin up opposition to this church existing in the town square.”
The city of Bryan, its mayor, Carrie Schlade, and other local authorities are the defendants in the church’s complaint. They refute any claims that a religious institution has received unfair treatment.
“The city has been and continues to be interested in any business, any church, [or] any entity complying with local and state law,” said an attorney for the city, Marc Fishel.
According to the church’s complaint, its officials made the decision in March to operate as a temporary, emergency shelter “for people to go who have nowhere else to go and no one to care for them,” staying open 24/7.
The church maintains that eight people remain there every night on average, and a few more do so during inclement weather.
The city claims that police were called in to look into inappropriate activities at the church as well as allegations of theft, trespassing, criminal mischief, and disturbing the peace.
Unless there is a biblically justified cause to do so or if someone on the property constitutes a threat to themselves or others, the church’s policy has always been to allow anybody to stay overnight if they have nowhere else to go, according to the lawsuit.
From 11 p.m. until 8 a.m., the church offers a “rest and refresh in the Lord” ministry, which consists of readings from the Bible that are read aloud under dim lighting, and anyone is welcome to participate.
However, the church is located in an area that forbids residential use of a building’s first floor, according to the city, which claims these activities constitute housing.
The church was given ten days by Bryan’s city planning and zoning administration to cease harboring individuals. Police in December filed charges against Avell for code breaches following an examination.
The church is requesting that a federal judge uphold its right to freedom of religion and shield it from hostile government action.
The church is also seeking damages and lawyers’ costs since they already use up most of its funds to support the homeless and provide resources for them. Additionally, the church is requesting a restraining order to prevent Bryan officials from acting against it in relation to the charges that were acquired by the police in the case.
“No history or tradition justifies the city’s intrusion into the church’s inner sanctum to dictate which rooms may be used for religious purposes, how the church may go about accomplishing its religious mission, or at what hours of the day religious activities are permitted,” the church said in the lawsuit.
“Instead of supporting a church that is trying to help citizens going through some of the worst situations in their lives (and in the dead of winter), the city seems intent on intimidating the church into ending its ministry to vulnerable citizens or relocating it somewhere out of mayor Schlade’s sight. The constitution and the law say otherwise,” Dys added, according to the press release.
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