Some courts have upheld the draconian, unconstitutional zoning restrictions that have been utilized in many instances to ominously stifle house church gatherings. Most of our readers can probably remember what happened to Pastor Michael Salman, the Phoenix, Arizona minister, who was sentenced to 60 days in jail for conducting Bible study classes in his home.
Now, the city of Fairfax, Virginia is unfortunately set to consider a similar ordinance that could become a pretense to create the same kind of situation that led to Pastor Salman’s imprisonment. The proposed zoning ordinance limits “group assembly” at residences to 49 people a day. Such gatherings “shall not occur more frequently than three times in any 40-day period.”
However, the Fairfax County supervisor predicts that a ban on “frequent and large gatherings at neighborhood homes” is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
“I believe the county is risking a lawsuit and/or a constitution challenge by interfering with peoples’ right to assemble,” Supervisor Pat Herrity said in a statement. He also wisely cautioned the Board of Supervisors against focusing on “restricting groups’ rights to assemble.”
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While county officials report having received complaints about home meetings in the community, Herrity said “they haven’t even reached 1 percent of the thousands of complaints our Department of Code Compliance investigates a year.” In other words, a total of only six complaints were received last year.
John Whitehead, the president of the Rutherford Institute, calls the Fairfax plan “nefarious.”
“Broad enactments like these have governments assuming that private property is their property,” Whitehead further explained in an interview with Watchdog.org.
“If you can’t determine what goes on at your own residence, you have surrendered your rights. The Constitution is founded on property rights.”
Although this proposed ordinance could also affect scout meetings, open houses or even big sporting events like Super Bowl parties, the bigger risk is to church groups. The threat to religious liberty is a very serious concern for many community residents. The potential for abuse is unsettling, and the risk of a crackdown on religious services like those in Phoenix should not be ignored.
Nevertheless, the Board of Supervisors is moving ahead with three public-comment sessions on the staff-drafted ordinance in May.
Perhaps the wisdom of Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity will prevail — we can only hope.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.