We live in crazy times when our culture is rapidly changing.  As America becomes a more secular nation, people are becoming less tolerant of both public, and private, religious activities.  In 2009, I shared the following news story of religious intimidation from public officials in San Diego County, California USA).

A San Diego pastor and his wife claim they were interrogated by a county official and warned they will face escalating fines if they continue to hold Bible studies in their home.The couple, whose names are being withheld until a demand letter can be filed on their behalf, told their attorney a county government employee knocked on their door on Good Friday, asking a litany of questions about their Tuesday night Bible studies, which are attended by approximately 15 people.

“Do you have a regular weekly meeting in your home? Do you sing? Do you say ‘amen’?” the official reportedly asked. “Do you say, ‘Praise the Lord’?”

The pastor’s wife answered yes.

If you sing or say, “praise the Lord” then, according to country officials, you can’t meet in your home.

She says she was then told, however, that she must stop holding “religious assemblies” until she and her husband obtain a Major Use Permit from the county, a permit that often involves traffic and environmental studies, compliance with parking and sidewalk regulations and costs that top tens of thousands of dollars.And if they fail to pay for the MUP, the county official reportedly warned, the couple will be charged escalating fines beginning at $100, then $200, $500, $1000, “and then it will get ugly…

Broyles confirmed the county official followed through on his threat. The pastor and his wife received a written warning ordering the couple to “cease/stop religious assembly on parcel or obtain a major use permit.”

I am not sure what happened to this family in San Diego, but now, in 2012, under the guise of “zoning” and “public safety” there has been another crackdown on church gatherings in homes.  In Arizona, a man was sentenced to jail because he refuses to stop meeting in his home with his church family.

Police cracked down on gatherings of 15 to 20 people because they have declared it illegal for a church to meet in a private residence.

A Phoenix man has been sentenced to 60 days in jail after he refused to stop hosting Bible studies in the privacy of his home – in violation of the city’s building code laws…

“It came down to zoning and proper permitting,” said Vicki Hill, the chief assistant city prosecutor. “Any time you are holding a gathering of people continuously as he does — we have concerns about people being able to exit the facility properly in case there is a fire — and that’s really all this comes down to.”

According to court documents provided to Fox News Radio, Michael Salman was found guilty in the City of Phoenix Court of 67 code violations. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail along with three years probation and a $12,180 fine. He could be jailed as early as next week unless the U.S…

“They’re cracking down on religious activities and religious use,” Salman told Fox News Radio.

“They’re attacking what I as a Christian do in the privacy of my home.”

“If I had people coming to my home on a regular basis for poker night or Monday Night Football, it would be permitted,” he said. “But when someone says to us we are not allowed to gather because of religious purposes – that is when you have discrimination.”…

The long-running feud between Salman and the City of Phoenix culminated in the summer of 2009 when nearly a dozen police along with city inspectors raided their home. Armed with a search warrant, police confined the Salman family to the living room as they combed the property looking for violations….

In 2007 they received a letter from the city informing them that the Bible studies were not permitted in their living room because it was in violation of the construction code.

A few months later, members of the Phoenix Fire Dept. broke up the family’s Good Friday fellowship. As many as 20 people were in their backyard eating a meal when firefighters threatened to call the police – unless their guests left the premises.

“Immediately after that, we decided to contact an attorney,” Salman told Fox News Radio. “The city emphasized that bible studies or church-related activities are not permitted on residences because you have non-family members coming to the home and such use is considered church use.”

Based on my decade of experience in the building industry, I believe that bureaucrats are using the excuses of “zoning” or “public safety” to enforce their vision of a secular society free from all religious activity.

These zoning laws were meant to prevent business activity in residential neighborhoods… NOT keep people from gathering together in a home to celebrate a birthday, watch Monday Night football, and certainly not to keep people from gathering to eat, pray, and read the Bible together.

No matter how this all turns out, I want to encourage my church-family not to fear.  Keep meeting in your homes!!!

Look at China. The Chinese are hindered by the law, imprisoned, beaten, and killed…. yet the church under Communist oppression has grown faster than in any other nation.  Yes, we must remain vigilant against a Government that seeks to constrain our faith, but we should not fear it—keep trusting in Jesus!

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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