A couple in San Juan Capistrano, California, has been ordered to stop holding a Bible study in their home on the grounds that the meeting violates a city ordinance as a “church” and not as a private gathering.
Homeowners Chuck and Stephanie Fromm, of San Juan Capistrano, were fined $300 earlier this month for holding what city officials called “a regular gathering of more than three people”.
That type of meeting would require a conditional use permit as defined by the city, according to Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), the couple’s legal representation.
The Fromms also reportedly face subsequent fines of $500 per meeting for any further “religious gatherings” in their home, according to PJI.
“We’re just gathering and enjoying each other’s company and fellowship. And we enjoy studying God’s word.” Stephanie Fromm told CBS2. […]
Neighbors have written letters to the city in support of the Fromms, whom they said have not caused any disturbances with the meetings, according to PJI.
“The Fromm case further involves regular meetings on Sunday mornings and Thursday afternoons with up to 50 people, with impacts on the residential neighborhood on street access and parking,” City Attorney Omar Sandoval said.
The city of San Juan Capistrano was founded as a mission in the late 1700s by Catholic priest Junipero Serra, who established a local chapel that remains the oldest standing building in California.
“Imposing a heavy-handed permit requirement on a home Bible study is outrageous,” said Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute — a non-profit 501(c)(3) legal defense organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom, parental rights, and other civil liberties.
The Fromms could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
But Brad Dacus, an attorney and PJI president, said the Bible study groups create no parking problems on the Fromms’ semi-rural street, which has properties measuring more than an acre.
The city “needed some kind of rational basis to justify their rigid intolerance towards this family for having a Bible study in their home,” said Dacus, who added that he is acting as the Fromms’ spokesman.
Dacus said the city should refund the fine and apologize to the Fromms.
“This matter could be resolved very easily,” he said.
Otherwise, he said, PJI is “committed to defending this family’s home Bible study all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.”
Dacus said more than 20 Bible study groups meet in San Juan Capistrano.