September 20, 2011 Print

California City Fines Couple for Home Bible Study

by Karla Dial

The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) is asking the California Superior Court in Orange County to relieve a couple whose home Bible study was shut down by the city of San Juan Capistrano recently over First Amendment issues.

The city fined Chuck and Stephanie Fromm $300 earlier this year after one atheist in their neighborhood of expansive homes on acre lots complained about the 40 people gathering at the Fromm’s house once or twice a week. According to city officials — who threatened to fine the Fromms $500 for each future violation — a longstanding ordinance requires groups of more than three people gathering in homes to buy permits.

“It’s interesting that they would choose to enforce this against this couple having people over to their house for prayer and Bible study,” PJI President Brad Dacus said. “We’ve heard no reports of them enforcing it against men who get together to watch football games on Sunday or couples playing bridge.”

Though other neighbors have written letters supporting the Fromms, the city maintains their informal gathering is a church.

“If the city is able to succeed in shutting this home group down, we could see similar acts of persecution executed at the whim of any city, anywhere in America,” Dacus said. “We read about how China, Iran and the other countries around the word invade homes and shut them down when they’re caught reading the Bible or praying, but this is not some foreign country. This is San Juan Capistrano, Calif.”

Not only is viewpoint discrimination a violation of the Fromms’ First Amendment rights to religion, free speech and assembly, PJI says it also violates a federal statute, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000. Read more about how the federal government should ban religious discrimination.