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A Church Says the City’s Crackdown on Feeding the Homeless Violates Its Religious Rights

Back in October, we wrote about the city of Brookings, Oregon, where the city council was determined to crack down on feeding the homeless. The city passed a new law that says churches are only allowed to host soup kitchens twice a week. At the time, local pastor Rev. Bernie Lindley of St. Timothy’s Episcopal was defiant, saying “We’re not going to stop feeding. They’re going to have to handcuff me and take me to jail, which they won’t do. So it’s not going to happen; we’re not going to stop feeding. We’re going to do what Christ compels us to do.”

Now, the church has filed a federal lawsuit, saying the new ordinance violates their First Amendment Rights. “To tell a church that they have to be limited in how they live into the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a violation of our First Amendment right to freely practice our religion,” Lindley told Reason.

The city says the ordinance was an attempt at a compromise: giving churches permission to serve the homeless in a limited capacity while also addressing the complaints of residents who were upset about the crowds and noise. But area churches have been feeding the homeless several times a week with no regulations since the 1980s, and St. Timothy’s upped the offering to six meals a week during the COVID-19 pandemic when other area soup kitchens were forced to scale back.

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“We’ve been serving our community here for decades and picking up the slack where the need exists and no one else is stepping in,” Lindley said in a statement. “We have no intention of stopping now and we’re prepared to hold fast to our beliefs. We won’t abandon the people of Brookings who need our help, even when we’re being threatened.”

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