Most have heard about the family in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., who were fined for having 40-50 friends in their home for Bible study twice a week. The homeowners, Chuck and Stephanie Fromm, have been fined $300, with the threat that they will be fined an additional $500 for each study held if they continue to meet without a Conditional Use Permit. The city alleges that the Bible study is in violation of zoning regulations.
I contacted Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), the nonprofit legal defense organization that specializes in the defense of religious freedom, parental rights and other civil liberties, which is representing the family.
Initially, I had thought that the zoning violation might have stemmed from the number of vehicles on the street and possibly the number of people. I thought that the city might use that as a blind they could hide behind. However, PJI informed me that the Fromms live on a rural street with a neighbor on one side of them and more than six acres of empty land on the other side of their home. So, it appeared the zoning violation was based on another factor.
PJI informed me that the zoning violations centered on section 9-3.301 of the Planning Code. In the interest of space, suffice it to say that this complaint is about three things. The first is a disgruntled neighbor who is upset that 40-50 people are gathering in a private home next to his, twice a week, to have a private Bible study.
In the neighbor’s defense, I wouldn’t be thrilled about having an invasion of cars twice a week either. Even if some of the people shared rides, realistically there would still be 12 or more vehicles twice a week. If I were the neighbor and enjoyed my Sunday mornings for something quiet around my house as opposed to going to church – having an additional dozen or more vehicles and the noise associated with same would annoy me as well.
I think it also fair to raise the question from a born-again believer’s perspective, per why the 40-50 people meeting for bible study weren’t in church on Sunday mornings? That said, I think it also fair to question where this neighbor stands on understanding and tolerance.
Secondly, as PJI explained to me, this is a matter of definitions. The city is redefining the private residence as a “church … and/or other place of religious worship,” under the definition of same in the Planning Code. The problem is that the people are not meeting for the purpose of worship as understood under the definitions listed in the city code. This is a group of friends coming together for Bible study.
There is nothing unusual about Christians meeting in private homes for Bible study. What would the city planning office call it if a large group of people met every Sunday and Monday evening to watch football and have pizza and beer? Would the city demand a Conditional Use Permit for that? This is a blatant attempt to control behavior in a private home based on the complaint of a disgruntled neighbor. It’s also an attack on the most basic rights consistent with home ownership.
Not only do I view this as a crude attempt at quodlibet, but also, the next point proves it to be about greed for the purpose of control. In speaking to the city planning office pursuant to a Conditional Use Permit, I was told an $8,000 deposit is required to apply for the permit. The deposit is then used to pay the cost of man-hours involved in considering the request for the permit. Depending on the man-hours involved, it can cost much more –which the homeowner would also be responsible for. I was told that while it typically takes two to six months to process the application, it could take much longer.
The process involves everything from frequency of the gathering to traffic studies to environmental and noise studies. It includes the neighbors signing off on the use and the submission of detailed plans spelling out exactly what the applicants intend to do.
When planning bureaucrats can dictate permission for something as basic as having friends gather at your home, and when the cost of obtaining permission to invite friends into your home is left to pejorative regulations that require putting up $8,000, it’s about control. It’s the ability of someone completely disassociated with your property to define under what circumstances friends can gather in a private residence.
That’s how liberals control their environs. They control by cost and regulation – and what’s happening in this city proves it perfectly. Liberals talk a good game about inclusion, but in reality they are only interested in exclusivity, control and our money – all of which they use to control our actions. To further my point – the planning office staff told me they had been suddenly inundated with calls about Conditional Use Permits for Bible studies.
Even if the Fromm family prevails, two things are certain. City planning will make a fortune from the surge in permit application fees, and people will be frightened into submission, because the city made an example of the Fromm family.