Pastor Cited for Holding Home Bible Study Without Permit

A San Diego pastor is fighting a citation from the San Diego County that requires him to obtain a permit to host weekly Bible studies at his home.

Pastor David Jones and his wife Mary have been hosting a Bible Study fellowship at their home every Tuesday for the past five years. The meeting, averaging 15 people each week, is usually comprised of dinner, fellowship and Bible study.

The meetings have gone without government interference until recently. Jones told KGTV, an ABC News affiliate in San Diego, that the visitor to a neighbor's house alerted the County after a Bible study member hit the visitor's car while leaving.

In April, a County employee visited the Jones' residence and informed the couple that they were not allowed to hold "religious assembles" in their home unless they obtained a major use permit. The employee warned that the couple would face fines upwards of $1,000 if they failed to comply with the County's order.

The County later sent the Joneses a written warning ordering them to "cease/stop religious assembly on parcel or obtain major use permit."

News of the County's order has re-ignited debate over the interpretation of the First Amendment.

The Joneses and their attorney of The Western Center for Law and Policy, based in Escondido, Calif, said the couple's rights to hold the Bible studies are protected by the U.S. Constitution.

The Administration Citation and Cease and Desist Order violate the "Jones' right to assemble peaceably and privately in their home for the purpose of religious worship," stated WCLP president Dean R. Broyles in a letter sent on behalf of the Joneses to the County Tuesday.

The letter alleges the County is discriminating against religious activity because it doesn't require a permit for secular assemblies such as cub scout meetings, friends gathering each week to watch sports on TV, book clubs, sewing clubs, or poker nights in residential zones.

Donald Wildmon, chairman of the American Family Association, defended the Bible study meeting on Thursday, urging supporters to sign a petition to the San Diego County Board that calls the County's actions "anti-Christian."

"I am upset that you would shut down a home Bible study of 15 people and yet allow similar secular events," reads the petition. "Your actions appear to have an anti-Christian slant and should cease immediately."

The Joneses and WCLP, according to the letter, are giving the County until early next week to uphold the couple's right to continue holding the Bible study meeting. If the County refuses to comply, the couple is prepared to consider a lawsuit.

A meeting between the two sides this week was unfruitful, according to KGTV. The next meeting is scheduled for June 9.

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