The issue of Chuck and Stephanie Fromm getting cited for having a home Bible study isn't new, of course.
And while city officials are quick to say "we don't prohibit home Bible studies," they don't add that "we just require permits." Or even worse, "We're not sure when something is a regular meeting and would require a permit...."
The city's code is vague, saying only "religious, fraternal and non-profit" uses require a permit. It doesn't even say "regular uses" or "frequent uses."
And this bit about more than 50 people constitutes a "public gathering place" is a bit of a red herring -- the Fromms were cited under the above code, nothing about "public gathering places." And again, even if it was 10 people, the code seems to say they need a permit. Probably. Maybe. Most likely.
Oh, and this covers the association club house, too. So if you're having your HOA meetings in your HOA clubhouse, I suspect that's a violation.
So the city couches it as a land-use issue -- parking, etc. Maybe is that, but doesn't that just open the door to all sorts of things? It's a public street, so why would the city get involved if cars are parked legally on a public street for two hours on Sunday?
There's laws against blocking driveways and littering, so if THAT's the problem, why not ticket the offenders?
There's no noise coming from the Fromm home, so that's not the issue. But if it was, there's ordinances for that, too.
But this is the sort of dispute that happens everywhere. I found an example on Snopes (of all places) that seemed particluarly on point (for all you lawyers out there.)
In 2009, a couple (a pastor) in Bonita, San Diego County were cited for holding regular Bible studies in their home. They were told to apply for a permit. When a lawsuit was threatened and folks complained, the county backed off and said they were talking with the couple to find a resolution, and meanwhile the Bible studies continued.
This, from Sign On San Diego, could have been written here, today -- just change the name to Fromm:
Chandra Wallar, the county's general manager of land use and environment, said the county has re-examined the situation and decided that the Joneses don't need a permit after all.
Religious assembly, under the county land-use code, is defined as “religious services involving public assembly such as customarily occurs in synagogues, temples, and churches.”
Wallar said that definition, which doesn't spell out specific thresholds on when a religious gathering becomes a religious assembly, probably needs to be clarified and that more training may be warranted for code enforcement officers.
She said the county was not targeting the Joneses because they were exercising their religion, but rather it was trying to address parking and traffic issues.
“We've advised the pastor he has the authority to continue to hold his meetings just as he's held them,” Wallar said. “My hope is we will be able to resolve the traffic concerns.”
Wallar said the person who filed the complaint alleged that Bible study was drawing 30 to 40 cars.