Outlawing Home Bible Studies

As the secular left state gets bigger, it seeks to sideline and neutralise any rival claimants to power. One great way to achieve this goal is to seek to eliminate all mediating structures. A mediating structure is any grouping that stands between the individual and the state.

There are many of these, including families, churches, corporations, unions, community groups, clubs, voluntary societies, and so on. They all put brakes on the urge to increase state power, and they help to empower individuals to pursue their dreams and maximise their liberties.

So as states grow stronger in power, they naturally see all such mediating structures as threats to the consolidation of even further power. This is of course true of all police states and totalitarian societies. But tragically this is becoming more and more true of many Western nations as well.

Increasingly the unchecked growth of Leviathan is crowding out and drowning out the individual as it displaces and replaces the mediating structures. Bit by bit such structures as the family and the church especially are being put under the boot of Big Government. And sadly it continues to get worse.

As Mark Steyn wrote recently, “The bigger the Big Government, the smaller everything else: In Sweden, expressing a moral objection to homosexuality is illegal, even on religious grounds, even in church, and a pastor minded to cite the more robust verses of Leviticus would risk four years in jail. In Canada, the courts rule that Catholic schools must allow gay students to take their same-sex dates to the prom. The secular state’s Bureau of Compliance is merciless to apostates to a degree even your fire-breathing imams might marvel at.”

Or as he put it in his important 2011 book, After America, “Freedom is messy. In free societies, people fall through the cracks – drink too much, eat too much, buy unaffordable homes, fail to make prudent provision for health care, and much else. But the price of being relieved of all these tiresome choices by a benign paternal government is far too high. Big Government is the small option: it’s the guarantee of smaller freedom, smaller homes, smaller cars, smaller opportunities, smaller lives.”

It is the smaller freedom I especially want to dwell on here, particularly religious freedom. All over the Western world religious freedoms are being whittled away. In the name of political correctness, equality, equal opportunity, anti-vilification, or even in the name of nothing at all, religion in general but Christianity in particular is coming under attack.

I have documented plenty of examples of this over the years. Here I just want to highlight two recent cases of what is effectively religious persecution and anti-Christian bigotry, all at the hands of the encroaching state. Both come from southern California and both have to do with home Bible studies.

Now I have been part of home Bible studies for decades, both in Australia and America, as would have millions of other people. But bit by bit this freedom to meet in a home for an informal time of worship, prayer and study of Scripture is being taken away from us.

The first example took place in May 2009 in San Diego. The story goes like this: “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.

“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.’

“Dean Broyles of the Western Center for Law & Policy, which has been retained to represent the couple, told WND the county’s action not only violates religious land-use laws but also assaults both the First Amendment’s freedom of assembly and freedom of religion. ‘The First Amendment, in part, reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”,’ Broyles said. ‘And that’s the key part: “prohibiting the free exercise.’” We believe this is a substantial government burden on the free exercise of religion.’ He continued, ‘If one’s home is one’s castle, certainly you would then think the free exercise of religion, of all places, could occur in the home’.”

Talk about draconian, heavy-handed nonsense. There is no reason whatsoever for such discriminatory policies. Is the state also cracking down on bingo games held in homes? What about groups of Muslims gathering together in private residences: are they also experiencing such a crackdown?

The second example of this occurred in September 2011 and comes from a city about 100 kms north of San Diego. One report of this begins as follows: “In Orange County, California, it is illegal to hold a religious meeting in your home. This is what Chuck and Stephanie Fromm, of San Juan Capistrano, discovered when they were fined $300 earlier this month for holding a Bible study class on their property.

“Officialdom in the county said the couple were singled out because it is considered illegal to hold ‘a regular gathering of more than three people’ on private property. Officials stated that the Fromms require a license to hold meetings in their home. San Juan Capistrano authorities claim home Bible study is not allowed because it is a ‘church,’ and churches require a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) in residential areas.

“The Fromms face additional fines of $500 per meeting for any further ‘religious gatherings’ in their home, according to the Pacific Justice Institute. The city’s action is a brazen violation of the First Amendment, which guarantees free worship without government intervention.”

A video clip of a TV news item about this ridiculous case can be seen here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjJrmWbHM2I

One case may just be a nuisance, but two is a real worry, and there would be more such cases. If this madness continues, we will find the beginnings of the underground church being established in the so-called free West. In places like China it has existed for decades, but things have come to a really bad place if they will need to emerge in places like America.

Religious freedom is far too important to let go of without a fight. Let these overseas cases be a warning to us all. We can lose it all here just as easily if we are not vigilant and not willing to stand up for what is right. If we don’t we might as well just start closing down the churches ourselves.

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