Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Government Approved Bible Studies

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.



  1. This, in another way, is how the Michigan state prison system is restricting religious activity. In security Levels 2-5, as of last fall, all "religious services" (of any "approved faith" - they don't have to provide any time/space for "unapproved" faiths to meet) need to have a staff member in the room at all times. Since the prisons can't dedicate a correctional officer to these duties because of staffing issues, religious services are being cut back or eliminated altogether.

    The study I have been facilitating on Sundays has been cut back to the second and fourth Sundays instead of weekly as in the past. I now go with my friend next door on those off weeks to a study in a housing unit at the prison next door which is a minimum security unit where the policy does not apply.

    Although one good thing to come of this is the fact that the officer now HAS to listen to the Gospel and the Bible discussed. The one who did so this past Sunday said afterward that he appreciated hearing productive discussion as opposed to what he's used to hearing in there.

    The Keryx ministry, though, if the prisons enforced their own policy, would be legislated out of two of the three prisons in Kincheloe where we operate now. Whether or not the intent of the policy was to restrict religious access, the end result is that it certainly is doing so.

  2. Josh,

    I can't believe you did this. Klingons are on Star Trek not Star Wars.

  3. Josh,

    You are exactly right on this, excepting the whole Star Wars and Star Trek mistake.

    I have often told others that the getting prayer and the Ten Commandments in school is not the fight we should be fighting. The problem is a government so intrusive that they can tell local schools how to decorate and what actions are appropriate and inappropriate at school. Everyone whether believer or unbeliever must realized the threat to freedom that a large federal govenment is.

  4. Be glad you don’t live in San Diego.

    San Diego County is one of the most backwards, repressive bureaucracies in the USA. County PR staffers are now tap-dancing like puppets on speed as they do damage control.

    E-mail Supervisor Chair Greg Cox at greg.cox@sdcounty.ca.gov and tell him what a great job (not!) Code Enforcement Head Pam Elias and her staff are doing or tell her yourself at Pam.Elias@sdcounty.ca.gov

    I hope this goes to court. The County is going to lose big time. Too bad the taxpayers and not the out-of-control bureaucrats will pay the costs and damages.

    Hopefully all this negative publicity will protect other citizens from further abuse by these bureaucratic zealots.