Example: [Collected via e-mail, May 2009]
According to the couple's attorney, they were questioned about the Bible study. "'Do you have a regular meeting in your home?" The pastor's wife replied, "Yes." "Do you say 'amen'?" the official asked. "Yes," she replied. "Do you pray?" Again she said, "Yes." "Do you say 'praise the Lord'?" Another "Yes." The official told the pastor and his wife they were in violation of county rules.
The Bible study usually has an average of about
Could a small poetry club meet regularly in a home? Apparently, yes. What about a Cub Scout meeting? Evidently, yes. What if they meet regularly to watch Monday Night Football? Obviously, yes.
Origins: The issue referenced above stemmed from an incident involving Pastor David Jones and his wife, Mary, who had been conducting weekly Bible study sessions at their home in Bonita, California (which is part of
The Joneses maintained that the county's action violated their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion, and the issue drew widespread attention from those who asserted that the Joneses had been unfairly targeted because the activity taking place at their home was religious in nature. In late May 2009, county officials overturned the warning issued to the Joneses the previous month, stating that the land use code governing what constitutes a "religious assembly" was not specific and that the Joneses could continue holding Bible study sessions at their home without the need to obtain a permit:
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."
The County responded to complaints from a neighbor about traffic and parking issues resulting from a weekly Bible study held in a Bonita home. This is a land use issue; it's not an issue of religious expression. We have been working to resolve the matter with the property owner.
I am personally reviewing our actions in this case and the policies and procedures we use to deal with such complaints. Should I find that county staff at any level acted in a heavy-handed way; did anything inappropriate under the circumstances, or that a change or revision to our processes and procedures is warranted, I will take appropriate action immediately.
More importantly, let me be clear: religious intolerance in any form is not, and never will be, allowed under any circumstance in San Diego County government.
I deeply regret that a routine code enforcement issue has transformed into a debate over religious freedom in San Diego County. No one respects the right to free religious expression more than I do and no one would find the infringement of such rights more abhorrent. The Bible studies will continue in Pastor David Jones' home as we work to find a solution that works for everyone involved in the matter.
Gao, Helen and Janine Zúñiga. "County Won't Force Permit on Bible Study Leaders." The San Diego Union-Tribune. 30 May 2009. 10News.com. "Couple: County Trying to Stop Home Bible Studies." 25 May 2009. Associated Press. "SD Co.: Couple Needs Permit to Hold Bible Study." San Francisco Chronicle. 29 May 2009.