San Diego County Formally Apologizes to Local Pastor

A San Diego pastor received a formal apology from the county after he was cited for holding a home Bible study without a permit.

County Chief Administrative Officer Walt Ekard sent a letter, dated Wednesday, to Pastor David Jones rescinding the citation and stating that a permit is not required to hold Bible studies at home.

"Christians should not be punished simply for holding a Bible study in their home, so we are very encouraged by the county's response and their commitment to immediate corrective action," said Dean Broyles, president of the Western Center for Law & Policy and Jones' attorney.

"We are confident that, as a result of the county's statements, Bible studies and prayer meetings held in homes throughout San Diego County will be free from government regulation, as is guaranteed by the First Amendment," he added.

In April, a code enforcement officer issued Jones a citation, ordering him to stop hosting the weekly Bible study – which the officer considered a "religious assembly" – or face fines upwards of $1,000. Jones was told that he needed to obtain a major use permit in order to continue the religious gathering.

When the news was revealed across several major media outlets, the San Diego County was flooded with complaints and accused of attempting to "muzzle religious expression."

Last week, Ekard expressed regret over the situation and stressed that religious intolerance is not and never will be allowed in San Diego County government. He further underscored his own commitment to the freedom of religious expression and said the Bible studies in Jones' home may continue while he reviews the matter.

Jones, however, wanted something more concrete than a public statement.

"We don't have anything in writing. We want something very clearly that states people can pray in homes and have friends over and read Bible together and study a bit," Jones, pastor of South Bay Community Church, told the local 10News, which first reported the incident.

According to 10News, Jones is satisfied with Wednesday's letter.

While many saw the incident as an issue of religious expression, the county said this was a land issue. The county had received complaints from a neighbor about traffic and parking issues resulting from the weekly Bible studies.

Hoping to improve the policies and procedures the county uses to deal with such complaints, Ekard said the county will conduct a thorough review of its assembly ordinances and code enforcement officer training.

Welcoming the county's efforts, Broyles stated, "We look forward to working with the county to ensure that the clarification of its ordinances and training of its personnel are implemented promptly and efficiently so that all citizens of San Diego can be assured that their constitutional rights are protected, whether they're holding Bible studies or hosting Boy Scout meetings."