Tuesday, May 26, 2009

We Still Have the Right to Peaceful Assembly - Don't We?

Can you imagine your reaction if, in the middle of a private gathering in your home, a government official knocks on your door and interrogates you about what you're doing? You might think this only happens in other countries, under some despotic and tyrannical regime, but a pastor and his wife said that is what happened to them (on Good Friday, no less) in San Diego, California, as they were holding a private Bible study, attended by 15 people, in their own home:

The couple, whose names are being withheld until a demand letter can be filed on their behalf, told their attorney a county government employee knocked on their door on Good Friday, asking a litany of questions about their Tuesday night Bible studies, which are attended by approximately 15 people.

"Do you have a regular weekly meeting in your home? Do you sing? Do you say 'amen'?" the official reportedly asked. "Do you say, 'Praise the Lord'?"

The pastor's wife answered yes.

She says she was then told, however, that she must stop holding "religious assemblies" until she and her husband obtain a Major Use Permit from the county, a permit that often involves traffic and environmental studies, compliance with parking and sidewalk regulations and costs that top tens of thousands of dollars.

And if they fail to pay for the MUP, the county official reportedly warned, the couple will be charged escalating fines beginning at $100, then $200, $500, $1000, "and then it will get ugly."
You might think this is an out of control county employee, that someone will jerk his leash, and that will be the end of it. But you'd be wrong. According to World Net Daily, Dean Broyles of The Western Center for Law & Policy said the pastor and his wife ". . .received a written warning ordering the couple to "cease/stop religious assembly on parcel or obtain a major use permit." (The Western Center for Law and Policy has been retained to represent the couple in their fight for their Constitutional right to peaceful assembly and worship.)

Of course there are those who have snored through the increasing hostility toward the Constitutional rights of people of faith - including many who are people of faith. Some will be shocked that the hostility extends to a local government. But if the practice of your religion involves peaceful assembly, consider this:
"The Western Center for Law and Policy is troubled by this draconian move to suppress home Bible studies," said the law center in a statement. "If the current trends in our nation continue, churches may be forced underground. If that happens, believers will once again be forced to meet in homes. If homes are already closed by the government to assembly and worship, where then will Christians meet?"

On a personal note, Broyles added, "I've been leading Bible studies in my home for 13 years in San Diego County, and I personally believe that home fellowship Bible studies are the past and future of the church. … If you look at China, the church grew from home Bible studies. I'm deeply concerned that if in the U.S. we are not able to meet in our homes and freely practice our religion, then we may be worse off than China." [Emphasis added.]
Not religious? Think none of this affects you? Think again, long and hard:
Broyles also said this case has broader implications.

"If the county thinks they can shut down groups of 10 or 15 Christians meeting in a home, what about people who meet regularly at home for poker night? What about people who meet for Tupperware parties? What about people who are meeting to watch baseball games on a regular basis and support the Chargers?" said Broyles.
The authors of the Constitution realized that governments are by nature the enemy of freedom and self determination of citizens - that is, government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Elections have consequences. Corruption has consequences. Ignoring the duty to be an informed, voting citizen has consequences. In the words of James Madison:
There are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by the gradual and silent encroachment of those in power,
than by violent and sudden usurpation.
"This is America - it can't happen here," is the dangerous assumption of a people lulled into the slumber of apathy. When government officials target the Bill of Rights, it can, and it is long past time to wake up.

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