A San Diego TV station reports:
A local pastor and his wife claim they were interrogated by a San Diego County official, who then threatened them with escalating fines if they continued to hold Bible studies in their home, 10News reported.
Attorney Dean Broyles of The Western Center For Law & Policy was shocked with what happened to the pastor and his wife.
Broyles said, “The county asked, ‘Do you have a regular meeting in your home?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you say amen?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you pray?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you say praise the Lord?’ ‘Yes.'”
The county employee notified the couple that the small Bible study, with an average of 15 people attending, was in violation of County regulations, according to Broyles.
Broyles said a few days later the couple received a written warning that listed “unlawful use of land” and told them to “stop religious assembly or apply for a major use permit” — a process that could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
I’m sure San Diego County will back away from this very quickly. But more than that, someone should be fired. It’s not good enough simply to back away from intimidation when you’re called on it.
UPDATE: The county is indeed backing down. They’re not admitting any wrongdoing yet, but claim to be investigating.
There’s a fact not to lose sight of here. The county says that this was a routine code enforcement gone awry. Indeed, it went very far awry if the county official was investigating the religious practice of the participants. But set that aside; let’s suppose it didn’t happen that way, or consider a hypothetical case in which the official behaved “properly.” The county is still on very shaky ground. According to my understanding of the law, strict scrutiny applies even for unintentional impairment of freedom of religion. That is to say, the county must make accommodations for religious gatherings that it might not make for other gatherings.