The City of Venice, Fla., has dropped its case against a family that was accused of having an unauthorized "house of worship" in their home, which the family says is just a weekly prayer gathering and Bible study.
After a legal scuffle that last several months, Shane and Marlene Roessiger will be able to continue hosting weekly prayer meetings in their home without facing any penalties. On Thursday, the Code Enforcement Board of the City of Venice voted 6-0 in favor of dropping the case at the advice of City Attorney Robert Anderson.
"We applaud officials from the City of Venice for changing course in this matter," Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), said in a statement. "PJI commits to protecting people of faith before local boards and in court who do nothing more than have small religious gatherings in the privacy of their own homes."
The Roessigers lead a small ministry called In Him Healing Touch Ministries, and for a while they had the ministry's mail sent to their home instead of a rented post office box. They also hold Friday prayer meetings at their home, which are usually attended by between six and ten people.
According to PJI, these things led the city's code enforcement board to think the Roessigers were operating an unauthorized house of worship from their home. Houses of worship are not permitted to be on a property less than two acres in size in the City of Venice, and the couple was facing a $250 per day fine for their gatherings.
The couple was also threatened with a $250 per day fine for posting a small sign in their yard which said "Need Prayer" and had their phone number printed on it.
PJI attorney Kevin Snider sent a letter to city officials in August, informing them that the couple's corporate address had been changed, but they would continue using their property for the prayer meetings. In the letter, he also argued that the city's sign ordinance was constitutionally flawed because it made exceptions for political signs.
Both issues were dropped by the city.
The Christian Post was unable to reach Shane Roessiger before the time of publication, but previous comments he made show he was baffled that the city would try to fine him in the first place.
"It is difficult to understand how it is illegal to have a prayer meeting on Friday night with a half dozen people but it is alright if I invited the same group on Monday evening to watch Monday Night Football," Roessiger said, according to PJI.
Anderson was also unavailable for comment before the time of publication.
The Roessigers' prayer and Bible study gathering is just one of several Christian gatherings that have made headlines lately due to apparent conflicts with local zoning laws.
Michael Salman, a pastor in Arizona, was jailed this past summer for hosting an in-home Bible study that violated building safety codes in the City of Phoenix. The city's prosecutor, Aaron J. Carreon-Ainsa, later told CP that Salman had been hosting worship services in a separate building next to his home, which was not coded to host the 40 people that sometimes attended.
Another zoning issue was raised earlier this year when New Generation Christian Church sued Rockdale County, Georgia for zoning restrictions that it claimed were discriminatory. The county prohibited churches from meeting on a property less than three acres in size, though it didn't place the same restrictions on other groups.
According to Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal organization representing New Generation, the county agreed to a federal court injunction in July that temporarily allows churches in the country to meet on property with less than three acres.