City Limiting How Often Church Can Feed The Homeless Gets Sued

An Oregon church has sued a city over new limits that restrict the number of times it can offer free meals to people in need.

St. Timothy's Episcopal Church announced it had sued the city of Brookings after officials issued an ordinance that said it could only offer homeless people two free meals per week.

In a public statement, shared on January 28, the church said the new ordinance that limits churches in residential areas interferes with "the congregation's free expression of their Christian faith."

The church said Reverend Bernie Lindley and his parishioners provided meals, COVID-19 vaccinations, showers, a food bank and other services to homeless people and those in need in the community.

But the services provided to homeless people upset residents living close to St. Timothy's, who claimed there had been cases of trespassing, littering and noise in the area.

St. Timothy's continued services led residents to send a petition to Brookings officials requesting the church cease offering assistance to the homeless, NPR reported.

The residents' request led the city of Brookings to issue a new ordinance that set limits on churches' "benevolent meal service."

According to the Brookings Municipal Code: "Organizations or individuals providing benevolent meal services may serve meals to the public up to two days per week between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. No benevolent meal service shall last more than three hours per day."

Attorneys representing St. Timothy's hit back against the ordinance, stating in the January 28 statement that its meal program was a "protected expression of faith."

Walter Fonseca, special projects counsel with the Oregon Justice Resources Center, said in the complaint: "The city's actions infringe our clients' constitutional right to the free exercise of their religion as well as violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

"The city of Brookings is attempting, without justification, to restrict Father Bernie and the congregants of St. Timothy's right to worship as their conscience dictates."

Stoel Rives attorney Samantha Sondag added: "The St. Timothy's meal program is not only a vital service for many but also a protected expression of faith.

"Father Bernie and the Church have the right to continue practicing their beliefs by assisting those in need, as they have for decades."

Newsweek has contacted the city of Brookings and the Oregon Justice Resources Center for comment.

According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, as of January 2020, "Oregon had an estimated 14,655 experiencing homelessness on any given day."

It added 1,329 of those were veterans, 1,314 were unaccompanied young adults aged between 18 and 24 and 4,339 were experiencing "chronic" homelessness.

Person preparing meals for homeless
Members of the "Be an Angel" refugee network prepare meals for the homeless at Kreuzberger Himmel restaurant on December 23, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. St. Timothy's is suing the city of Brookings, in Oregon. Omer Messinger / Stringer/Getty