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-Texas: Christian in Trouble for Feeding the Homeless

by Dr. D ~ June 22nd, 2015

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A Christian woman in San Antonio, Texas who has been feeding the homeless for over 10 years, may be fined up to $2,000 for not having a proper city permit. Actually she does have a license for her food truck where the cooking and preparation takes place but uses a pickup truck to distribute the food in the park and hard to get to locations. Here’s the story from NPR:

Every Tuesday night, Joan Cheever hits the streets of San Antonio to feed the homeless. In a decade, she’s rarely missed a night. But on a recent, windy Tuesday, something new happens.

The police show up.  …Officer Mike Marrota asks to see her permit.

Documents are produced, but there’s a problem: The permit is for the food truck, not her pickup. Cheever argues that the food truck, where she cooks the meals, is too big to drive down the alleyways she often navigates in search of the homeless.

"I tell you guys and the mayor, that we have a legal right to do this," Cheever says to Marrota.

Marrota asks, "Legal right based on what?"

The Freedom of Religion Restoration Act, Cheever tells him, or RFRA, a federal law which protects free exercise of religion.

The officer isn’t buying it. He writes her a ticket, with a fine of up to $2,000, making clear that San Antonio tickets even good Samaritans if they don’t comply with the letter of the law.

<Read the whole article>

Response: Cities all across America are making it difficult for Christian ministries to help the poor and homeless. Over 30 cities now require permits to feed the poor.  Many others demand all food distributed to be produced and prepared in licensed and inspected kitchens. Which I really have no problem with. In this case, Joan Cheever has complied with all of the health precautions and yet has run into trouble over a technicality.

Joan Cleaver asserted the federal ‘Freedom of Religion Restoration Act’ (RFRA) as the controlling legal authority to continue her ministry. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the courts.

Fact is, many cities don’t want the homeless to congregate in any given location to receive help unless it is at a government sponsored location far away from any city business or tourist centers. So many local jurisdictions lately have been clamping down on ministries that help the poor.

The church I was part of for years in South Orange County CA  use to give out free lunches to day laborers near a city park until the city and the police tried to stop it all. We continued anyway with ‘lookouts’ on cell phones to keep us from getting ticketed or arrested. The worse case I have read about was in the city of Phoenix, Arizona. The police stopped Christian folks from giving out free bottled water in Jesus name a couple of years ago.

Point is, Christians and churches are called to minister to the poor and should be free to continue. Governments, whether local, state, or federal, really should have compelling safety and health reasons for any restrictions. Otherwise it is really a violation of religious liberty.            *Top

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2 Responses to -Texas: Christian in Trouble for Feeding the Homeless

  1. Brian

    In Communist Russia, the authorities first banned religious groups from conducting any social activity (i.e. feeding the poor, etc). They then criticized religious groups for NOT conducting any social activities. Something similar may be at work here, although not in the organized, centrally directed way that the Russians did it.

  2. Dr. D

    Brian,
    Can’t tell you how many times I have heard people comment on churches spending money for buildings rather than helping the poor. Sounds good and easy but actually in America today helping the poor is far more regulated than folks really know.

    The church I am connected with has a 15,000 sf warehouse where we give out food and clothing and other needed stuff to the poor to the tune of nearly $1 million worth a year. But many wish it was somewhere else and I won’t even go into all of the costly changes we have had to do to make the inspectors happy. But our city has actually been wonderful and has bent over backwards to help compared to what other ministries have had to endure.

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