May 28, 2015

Florida City Wages Bureaucratic War on Churches

[From article]
“After we opened up the coffee bar and started doing services, I heard that he told people we were anti-gay,” Olive said. “So I went to his shop to ask him about that.”
I reached out to Amoroso on Wednesday but he did not return my telephone calls.
Pastor Olive told me he tried to convey to Amoroso that the church’s message is ‘Love God, Love People.’
“Our message to the gay community is the same as it is to the straight community,” he said.
The commissioner, Olive said, did not seem to appreciate his message.
“He pointed at me and said, ‘Listen, you better not have a church down there,” Olive told me.
By the strangest of coincidences, a code enforcement officer showed up for a Sunday service on Feb. 8. He was wearing a hoodie and was armed with a concealed video camera, according to the letter Liberty Counsel sent to the city.
[. . .]
For the record – the church was only licensed to sell java – not preach Jesus.
William Waters, the city’s community sustainability director, told me they have nothing against the church – they were simply responding to a complaint.
“We had a complaint that a gathering of people was taking place there in the form of a church,” he said. “We investigated that and determined that, yes, there were people gathered there.”
So if 115 people gather for coffee, that’s OK. But if they gather for worship – it’s against the law?
“We have to treat everybody the same,” Waters said. “We couldn’t give preferential treatment to churches versus other businesses.”
And in the city’s opinion, a church is, in fact, a business – just like grocery store, a Waffle House or an adult novelty shop.
[. . .]
“We’ve been there 99 years and we’ve never had to have a license,” she told the newspaper. “Where do you all of a sudden say the church has to have a license to gather and pray?”
Waters could not tell me how many churches have complied with the city’s demands. Local news accounts indicate the First Baptist Church paid nearly $500 in fees to the city.
Staver said the city’s actions violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Florida Constitution, the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the federal Religious Land Uses and Institutionalized Persons Act.
“Churches are not businesses and need not obtain such licenses,” Staver wrote in a letter to the city.
Waters said any church that refuses to comply could be shut down by the fire department.

Florida city wages soviet-style crackdown on churches
By Todd Starnes
Published March 05, 2015

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