The California couple fined for holding Bible studies and religious gatherings in their home is fighting back against what they consider an attack on their religious freedom.
Chuck and Stephanie Fromm, residents of San Juan Capistrano, home to the oldest church in California, were fined $300 for the religious activities, which the city said violated a municipal code that prohibits "religious, fraternal or non-profit" organizations in residential neighborhoods without a conditional-use permit," the Capistrano Dispatch reported.
The Christian Post (CP) spoke with Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, a non-profit legal defense organization that has taken up the couple’s case.
According to Dacus, this case is more than just about a fine - it is about not having to be fearful of the government just because one wants to read the Bible with friends in his or her home.
"This isn't communist China," Dacus said. "The government shouldn't have the right to demand that you have prior permission to read the Bible and have friends over in your own home."
Dacus believes that the municipal code, which he describes as "arbitrary and capricious," is too broadly written to make sense. In fact, he said, the law could theoretically require that people gathering on Sunday to watch football would require a permit.
"If the Founding Fathers knew people would have to have a permit to gather in their home and read the Bible, I don't think they'd like that very much," Dacus said.
Aside from being poorly written and a cause of religious discrimination, Dacus also believes the law allows one angry neighbor of the Fromms' to trample the rights of local residents.
"Nobody else has a problem with them meetings," Dacus said. "There aren't any traffic problems or anything like that. This is simply because of one neighbor with an attitude problem who is an atheist who doesn't like people reading the Bible in her neighborhood."
Despite the possibility of the incident being little more than a neighborly rivalry, several CP readers empathized with the alleged atheist neighbor, saying that if it sounds like the Fromms are running a church, they should be subject to laws that churches are subject to, such as having a permit to hold gatherings.
However, Dacus insists the Fromms' Bible study does not fit the description of a church.
"A church is not just a place where people meet and pray," Dacus said. "Churches can have meetings five, six, or seven times a week and also have a funding element for other activities."
"If this [home] Bible study is a church, then any Bible study would qualify as a church and require a permit," he added.
Although Dacus and the Fromms insist the meetings do not constitute a church, Mr. Fromm pointed out in a blog post that, according to a recent NBC report, between 6 and 12 million Americans attend "home churches."
"Can local government decide if these churches have the right to gather? The right to worship … the right to pray?" Fromm wrote.
That is a question that Dacus believes is answered by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, which allows for less restrictive zoning laws on churches and religious institutions.
How much less restrictive and whether or not it would apply to the Fromms remains to be seen.
Representatives of the city of San Juan Capistrano could not be reached for comment.