Church Sues To Protect Homeless Ministry After City Officials Threaten Criminal Charges

A church in Ohio filed a lawsuit against city officials Monday, alleging that they were unlawfully targeting their faith-based homeless ministry, according to the complaint.

Dad’s Place, a Christian church in Bryan, Ohio, expanded its ministry in March 2023 by keeping its doors open 24 hours a day, caring for homeless individuals’ “spiritual and physical needs” until the city sent a letter in November, demanding the church stop its homeless outreach, according to the complaint. The city argued that the church was in violation of its zoning laws by allowing anyone to spend the night in the building, but after attempts by the ministry to reconcile the issue were allegedly met with silence, the church filed suit, citing First and 14th Amendment violations.

In a press release on Friday, the city claimed the church had violated zoning codes that did not allow “residential use” of buildings in the area and over a dozen fire codes. The city also said that the police department had been asked to respond on multiple occasions to calls of “criminal mischief, trespassing, overdose… and sexual assault.”

The church argues in the complaint, however, that it had partnered with the city’s police department to bring people to the shelter as a “temporary place to stay,” and one woman who was residing at the church allegedly told city officials that the department recommended for her to go to Dad’s Place. The lawsuit also noted that often if anyone had to be removed from the property it was individuals who had been sent by the department.

The church also stated that its calls to Mayor Carrie Schlade’s office about the situation were left unanswered, and that after asking about other zoning options to apply for, they were told that the city would not approve the permits, according to the complaint. The police department then issued a notice on Jan. 16, requiring all issues to be resolved in seven days, or criminal charges would be filed against the church’s pastor, Chris Avell.

The church argued that several of the problems required “approval from the state of Ohio” and could not be completed in such a short time frame, according to the complaint. The lawsuit further claims that the city’s press release several days later on Jan. 19 “falsely implied” that the shelter was a “hotbed of criminal activity.”

“Churches throughout history have been a shelter for anyone seeking a place of safety, and Dad’s Place is no exception,” Philip Williamson of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, one of the firms representing the church, said in a press release. “Ohio and federal law alike protect vital ministries like Dad’s Place, and we look forward to defending those rights.”

The city did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

Republished with permission from The Daily Caller News Foundation.
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