Government approved Bible studies? A San Diego newspaper has reported that "A local pastor and his wife claim they were interrogated by a San Diego County official, who then threatened them with escalating fines they continued to hold bible studies in their home" [see story here].
While many blogs have cited this as an example of religious persecution, others believe it is simple a case of bureaucracy taken to the extreme. What is troubling is the line of questioning the couple was asked by the city official. The news article reports that "the county asked, 'Do you have a regular meeting in your home?' She said, 'Yes.' 'Do you say amen?' 'Yes.' 'Do you pray?' 'Yes.' 'Do you say praise the Lord?' 'Yes.' "The county employee notified the couple that the small bible study, with an average of 15 people attending, was in violation of county regulations. A few days later the couple received a written warning that listed "unlawful use of land" and told them to "stop religious assembly or apply for a major use permit" -- a process that could cost tens of thousands of dollars."
The political and religious implications of this action are far-reaching. While the county may feel it is not intending to single out religious activity, their line of questioning makes it difficult to come to any other conclusion. How is it that other home-based activities escape the city's attention whereas a private home Bible study has been deemed a violation of zoning law.
As a boy I watched as my grandmother religiously observed 'Thursday Yahtzee Night". Cars lined her street as 10-12 gray (and blue) haired women sat across table in her dinning room smoking cigarettes, using crude-humor, and getting buzzed on Tab diet cola. No county zoning agent ever questioned her activity. Likewise we all witnessed neighbors this past weekend whose yards were filled with friends and relatives invited over for a Memorial Day BBQ. Others host weekly events in their homes such as watching football or playing poker. Perhaps San Diego should crack down on the Star Wars [er...Star Trek] geeks who regularly assemble to learn the fine art of speaking Klingon.
The fact that San Diego even had the audacity to ask those questions is stunning. The issue here isn't the rights of Christians. At a fundamental level this is a violation of free speech. It shouldn't matter if it was group of scholars, atheists, Wiccans, 'pray-he-never-dies-Catro supporters, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, or a group discussing the latest Oprah book (ok, perhaps that last one should be made illegal).
But then again, I didn't get a permit from my county to offer this opinion so perhaps the official will come knocking on my door next.