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“Without government, who would arrest your pastor for letting people sleep in his church during a snowstorm?”

We’ve brought you many stories of overreaching bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., whose actions infringe on your civil liberties.

But the sad fact is that power-hungry bureaucrats aren’t limited to the federal government. They’re also in cities and states across the country.

And because they can easily fly under the radar, the impact that they can have on our civil liberties and constitutional government can go unnoticed. So let’s change that by looking at a few examples.

Do you remember Pastor Chris Avell? He leads a local congregation in Bryan, Ohio. Bryan has a homelessness problem, and Pastor Avell and his congregation wanted to help. So they opened up their church to the homeless on cold nights.

Bureaucrats in Bryan, Ohio, responded to this kindness and sacrifice by charging Pastor Avell for violating the city’s zoning ordinances.

With the help of my friends at First Liberty, Pastor Avell filed a lawsuit against the city in January, and the next month the city dropped the 18 criminal charges against him.

Meanwhile, city officials in Gastonia, North Carolina, have gone after Pastor Moses Colbert at Faith Hope and Love Ministries. He’s already been fined at least $100,000, a sizable sum for a small church.

His crime? Letting homeless people stay at the church.

Pastor Moses’ situation has caught the attention of Spike Cohen, the Founder and President of activist network You Are the Power:

And this year, a church in Arizona filed a lawsuit against the city of San Luis after the city barred the church from feeding those in need.

Although Gethsemani Baptist Church has been providing water and food to those in need for nearly 25 years, Pastor Jose Manuel Castro now faces a fine of thousands of dollars – and could even receive time in jail if he continues to distribute food and water to immigrants in need.

Sadly, these aren’t isolated stories.

When government – at any level – exceeds its proper role, it comes at the cost of our civil liberties. And it’s happening across the country.

  • California: Last year, church leaders sued the city of Santa Ana in California after government officials threatened to fine them for feeding food to the homeless. And in 2014, Rabbi Shlomo Cunin claimed that police officers in Santa Monica targeted him for feeding the homeless.
  • Oregon: The year before last, St. Timothy Church sued the city of Brookings in Oregon after the city government forced the church to reduce its meal service from six days per week to two.
  • Texas: Houston officials have fined and charged the nonprofit Food Not Bombs for providing meal services to homeless people.

But as David Hacker, Vice President of Litigation and Senior Counsel at First Liberty, says:

Throughout history, churches have been a place of safety for those whose circumstances have forced them to the edges of life. Instead of prosecuting pastors, ticketing churches, and using a city’s police powers to drive the marginalized from sight, government officials should be thankful there is someone — often a local or faith community — trying to care for the underserved in the community.

In each of these situations, religious institutions and nonprofits are guilty of doing something that’s deeply and uniquely American.

Call it civil society. Call it charity. Call it community engagement. Call it (in many cases, anyway) religious liberty.

Whatever name you use, this spirit of service and collaboration is distinctly American. Our country has a strong tradition of local civic duty. Government should protect, not punish, it.

Surely there is a better way to address any legitimate government concerns about health and safety than to charge people with crimes for trying to help their neighbor.

These faith leaders, parishioners, and volunteers are rolling up their sleeves and working with their neighbors to provide what their communities need.

America’s civic infrastructure exists outside of the government. Why is the government trying to tear it down?

Particularly when we’ve seen the government poorly equipped to respond to the rapid increase in homelessness across the country in recent years – not to mention the drastic rise in cost of living.

If government wants to be the problem-solvers, then they need to solve the problem – or otherwise move out of the way of those who are.

The problem of overreaching bureaucrats can sometimes seem overwhelming. But if you are in Bryan, Ohio, or Gastonia, North Carolina, you are exactly what’s needed to make a difference.

You can go to your city council meeting and directly impact the people who are preventing some place of worship or some civic organization from being able to feed and house people in need – and often denying the house of worship their constitutional rights in the process.

There could be overreaching bureaucrats in your own city, at your town hall, in your city of hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands.

You have a voice – go use it! And if you have had similar experiences with local bureaucrats, please let us know.


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