A Christian couple from Orange County, Calif., were fined earlier this month for holding Bible studies and for what city officials called “a regular gathering of more than three people” in their homes. They have now been told they face a $500 fine if they continue to hold their home Bible study gatherings.
According to reports, the local officials complained that Chuck and Stephanie Fromm were operating as a church in their home and fined them $300. The city said the couple violated a municipal code that prohibits "religious, fraternal or non-profit" organizations in residential neighborhoods without a conditional-use permit," the Capistrano Dispatch reported.
They will face a further $500 fine if they continue to hold the gatherings at their home premises in the city of San Juan Capistrano.
The case has been highlighted by religious groups as a violation of religious freedom. Pacific Justice Institute, a religious legal non-profit group in Sacramento, has taken up the couple’s case. According to CBS Los Angeles, Stephanie Fromm said they will need to obtain a conditional use of permit in order to hold the gatherings in the city.
Brad Dacus, the attorney representing the couple, said the Fromm’s appeal had been rejected by city officials. The couple is ready to appeal the decision to the California Superior Court in Orange County and even take it to the Federal Courts if necessary.
"Imposing a heavy-handed permit requirement on a home Bible study is outrageous," said Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, in a statement.
"In a city so rich with religious history and tradition, this is particularly egregious. An informal gathering in a home cannot be treated with suspicion by the government, or worse than any other gathering of friends, just because it is religious. We cannot allow this to happen in America, and we will fight as long and as hard as it takes to restore this group’s religious freedom."
“We’re just gathering and enjoying each other’s company and fellowship. And we enjoy studying God’s word,” Stephanie Fromm told CBS2.
Over 20 Bible study groups meet in the city of San Juan Capistrano, according to Dacus. He added that the city “needed some kind of rational basis to justify their rigid intolerance towards this family for having a Bible study in their home.”
However, district attorney Omar Sandoval said, “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.”
Chuck Fromm is publisher of Worship Leader Magazine, a Christian music resource that combines biblical wisdom and best practices for worship, and provides added educational and congregational resources through its associated educational services, according to its website. However, the Fromms insist that their weekly meetings are not affiliated with a church, nor are they seeking to establish a church.
"How dare they tell us we can't have whatever we want in our home," Stephanie Fromm said. "We want to be able to use our home. We’ve paid a lot and invested a lot in our home and backyard … I should be able to be hospitable in my home."