California family fined for studying the Bible at home

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The Fromm family have paid $300 in fines and are threatened with more.

September 22, 2011 — — A California family has been fined for holding weekly Bible studies at their home, meetings that allegedly violated city zoning regulations.

Stephanie and Chuck Fromm have lived in their San Juan Capistrano home for 18 years and were shocked when they received a notice of violation from the city. They have already been fined $300 and told they will be fined an additional $500 per meeting if they continue to meet without a conditional use permit.

But they are not backing down.

“No one should be able to tell us what we can do at home,” said Stephanie Fromm. “Since when do we have to qualify who we have at home and what we do?

The Fromms regularly host 40 to 50 friends and family members at their home from 10 a.m. to noon on Sundays for Bible studies. They don’t think noise or traffic issues are to blame for the quote. There is no music, and the encounters, they say, are largely “contemplative.”

Many of those who attend the Bible study drive home together, so there are far fewer cars than people, the Fromms say. They have only one neighbor and the space on the other side of their house is over six acres of empty land.

They say a disgruntled neighbor started the whole situation, while the rest of the neighborhood has no problem with meetings and supports the family.

“We have a neighbor who is mad at us and contacted the zoning department,” Chuck Fromm said. “It’s a bit like a snitch system. There’s no due process. It’s arbitrary. We’re reasonable and rational people, but we don’t have a reasonable and rational system.”

An attorney from the Pacific Justice Institute, a national organization that provides pro bono attorneys in battles to defend religious freedom, is representing the Fromms.

“This is a huge invasion of personal freedom, privacy and religious freedom,” said Brad Dacus, the couple’s attorney. “An individual’s home is probably most revered in terms of an individual’s right to gather, pray and practice their religion, especially with friends and family.”

Millions of Americans regularly gather for Bible studies, a tradition that dates back far into American history, Dacus pointed out.

“If this Bible study is not allowed – if they are not allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights – then the floodgates will be wide open for every Bible study in the country to potentially be on the chopping block by their government. local,” says Dacos.

The ordinance in question identified “religious, fraternal, or nonprofit organizations as uses requiring conditional use license approval,” Dacus said. That would include organizations like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Dacus continued, adding that the blurring of the word “fraternal” could even include groups that meet weekly to watch Sunday Night Football.

“It is an abuse of authority and discretion for any local government to say that a family like the Fromms must pay money to the city and obtain its prior consent to engage in such a fundamentally traditional use of his own house,” Dacus said.

The San Juan Capistrano City Attorney’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.

But, for now, Chuck Fromm is clear on his plan: “We’ll meet and they can charge us.” He and Dacus say they are ready to do whatever it takes to tackle this problem.

“The Pacific Justice Institute is committed to taking this all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary, not only for the Fromms, but for all other families in the United States who seek to exercise the same freedom,” Dacus said. .

And Stephanie Fromm, who her husband describes as “a true host with the most”, said she just wanted to host loved ones for Bible studies at her home without worrying about a fine or questioning.

“We are not brewers. We are surprised and sad,” she said. “It just doesn’t make our town look like the community we came to raise our children in. We love our community. We will defend our faith and the use of our home.”

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