Officials in a county in northern California have learned a difficult lesson on religious freedom.
Just outside Oroville, California, Christians have been holding meetings in a barn so that a diverse congregation could come together and worship under one roof.
Brad Dacus, who heads the Pacific Justice Institute, explained that the property owner soon ran into trouble with local officials.
“The people there who own the property basically had a church service – not only for the homeless,” Dacus informed. “They have about 80 or 90 people at a time coming there to worship, and it's been very successful in ministering. The neighbors have no problem with it.”
The church provides clothing and other essentials to the homeless people who attend the services.
However, county representatives told the owners that they could not meet any longer in the barn. They vetoed the gatherings again when they took place in an open pasture.
“Then the county also said you can't meet here because it's zoned for agriculture – it's not zoned for church services,” Dacus recounted. “What was the real rub here is the fact that the county allowed other groups and other things to take place – entertainment performances in these places – and yet they were putting their foot down on the church.”
Attorneys with the Pacific Justice Institute subsequently intervened by sending a strong demand letter to the county explaining that religious events cannot be barred if non-religious ones are permitted.
After reviewing the legal information, the county quickly reversed its policy and has issued a lawful conditional use permit to the church.