St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Oregon have received national press attention.
Earlier this week we ran Diocese and church file suit against city over hospitality ministry, running the diocese’s press release The Diocese of Oregon and St. Timothy’s file lawsuit against the City of Brookings.
Several national outlets now have reports.
New York Times – Oregon Church Sues City That Limited Soup Kitchen Hours
At one point, the church served meals six days a week, shouldering some of the load as other parishes scaled back their programs. Its most popular offering: pizza on Friday nights.
But as of Jan. 26, a program that in the church’s view was a universally identifiable act of Christian charity suddenly broke the law. Under a city ordinance that was approved unanimously in the fall, churches in residential zones, including St. Timothy’s, can serve meals to the needy only two days a week. They are also required to obtain a permit.
Two days after the ordinance took effect, St. Timothy’s filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Brookings, a community of between 6,000 and 7,000 people nestled along Oregon’s southwestern Pacific coastline.
St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon say in a federal lawsuit against the city of Brookings that the ordinance limiting them to two free meal giveaways per week violates their constitutional right to free religious expression.
“We’ve been serving our community here for decades and picking up the slack where the need exists and no one else is stepping in,” the Rev. Bernie Lindley said in a statement.
“We have no intention of stopping now and we’re prepared to hold fast to our beliefs. We won’t abandon the people of Brookings who need our help, even when we’re being threatened,” he added.
Brookings Mayor Ron Hedenskog and City Manager Janell Howard did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The restrictions come after dozens of residents complained last year that “vagrants” living in or congregating around the church had caused problems in the community including “criminal trespassing, theft, harassment, drug possession, littering, disorderly conduct, physical altercation,” among others, according to a petition signed last spring.
The church alleges the residents pressured the city government “to move, end or significantly limit the help it provides to the community,” the church said in a news release last week, adding such limits “conflicts with the deeply held religious beliefs of St. Timothy’s congregants.”
St. Timothy’s — which started serving meals six days a week during the pandemic — has refused to apply for the permit, claiming the restrictions “target and interfere with the congregation’s free expression of their Christian faith which calls them to serve others in need.”