.- A California pastor and his wife have claimed that San Diego County officials asked intrusive religious questions and threatened them with fines because of a weekly Bible study in their home. The incident has prompted a national religious freedom organization to reiterate its willingness to assist anyone in a similar situation.
County officials had responded to a complaint about overflow parking by guests at a monthly dinner and Bible study held at the Pastor David Jones’ Bonita, California house for the past five years. A friend who was visiting a neighbor of the Joneses complained about the parking overflow.
Pastor Jones told KGTV San Diego that a county code enforcement officer had asked his wife Mary for details about the meetings.
"She said, 'Do you say amen?' and my wife said, 'Well, yes,'" Jones said.
"And she said, 'Do you say praise the Lord?’ she said, 'Well, yes but what does that have to with it?'"
Chandra Wallar of the county’s land use and environment group told KGTV it was the officer’s job to determine what kind of event was being hosted to decide what part of county code the event falls under.
Wallar said Bible studies are “probably in a very gray area,” adding that authorities want to ensure that parking is safe and does not block access to fire trucks or police vehicles.
Attorneys for Jones told KGTV it appeared that the county was backing away from its original warning issued in April.
The written warning to Jones noted an “unlawful use of land” and ordered him to stop hosting “religious assemblies.”
"They can stop religious activities in the courthouses and that but they're trying to stop prayer in my house," Jones complained.
Eric Rassbach, National Litigation Director at the Becket Fund, claimed in a statement that San Diego County had brought “KGB tactics” to Southern California.
"Government agents have no place questioning American citizens about how they choose to worship in their own home."
"Unfortunately this case is not all that unusual,” he added, saying “local zoning apparatchiks” across the U.S. try to shut down home-based Christian Bible studies and Jewish prayer meetings “all the time.”
“People of faith should know that federal civil rights law protects against this kind of government intrusion into matters of conscience, and the Becket Fund is ready to help,” he said.