Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Virginia proposal would limit size of gatherings at private homes..could this violate freedom of assembly, religion?

Commentary by Kirby Harris

Could this be political or religious persecution in the guise of public safety and being a good neighbor or just be an unintended consequence of such laws?

housechurchCould this really be aimed at House Church Fellowships or Grassroots Political Gatherings?

Could this infringe on, not only the right to assemble (which includes grassroots political activity), but on the freedom of religion as well?

First we have the right to assemble protected by under the US Constitution, which includes gathering for political and religious reasons, not just in public but in homes.

Many patriot groups and smaller Tea Parties meet in homes for lack of other venues or to organize their neighborhoods.

Also, as far as house churches, many Christians believe God wants them to only meet in homes like the early church, while others just prefer home fellowships to mainstream church buildings. My wife and I ran an active house church for years.

How might this law mess up house churches or political gatherings you might ask?

Well "the proposed zoning ordinance limits “group assembly” at residences to 49 people a day. Such gatherings “shall not occur more frequently than three times in any 40-day period.”

Now I know that there has to be a limit to the amount of people you have gathering in a residential home for safety reasons, but you don’t need a one size fits all number for all residences. You all ready have occupancy laws based on square foot. And if this doesn’t apply to residential homes in your area, then just add homes to the business occupancy law that your area already has in place. Though this could be a slippery slope.

Another issue is that many political groups meet once or several times a week, and this definitely is true of churches, so no more than three gatherings in a 40 day period definitely infringes on them. Some churches even have a mid week service or other church related bible studies, not to mention it limits growth. Sorry your number 50..go away.

I understand for safety reasons limiting the number of occupancy in any dwelling, but the frequency of how many gatherings you have is ridiculous and frankly none of the government’s or your neighbor’s business. I will add this to my previous comment, if you have regular gatherings in your home be a good neighbor and consider parking, noise level and times that don’t interfere to much with your neighbors as best you can.

Comment on Below Article by Mark Wood:

“What bothers me even more than even the thought of proposing such a law is the thought, "Who is going to keep track of the number of people entering each house?"

To enforce such a law, there must be proof of breaking such law. So, even those not breaking the law must have their visitors counted - just to show innocence. Those breaking the law must be counted in order to prove guilt.

Not a good law by any means or scenario.”



Fairfax aims to downsize home assemblies

By Kenric Ward  -  Published May 05, 2014  -  watchdog.org

patherrity-watchdogFAIRFAX, Va. – A plan to ban “frequent and large gatherings at neighborhood homes” is a lawsuit waiting to happen, a Fairfax County supervisor predicts.

Officials will get an idea Wednesday when public-comment hearings begin in Virginia’s most populous county.

“I believe the county is risking a lawsuit and/or a constitution challenge by interfering with peoples’ right to assemble,” Supervisor Pat Herrity said in a statement.

The proposed zoning ordinance limits “group assembly” at residences to 49 people a day. Such gatherings “shall not occur more frequently than three times in any 40-day period.”

County officials say they have received complaints about group meetings at homes. But Herrity said “they haven’t even reached 1 percent of the thousands of complaints our Department of Code Compliance investigates a year.”

“This is yet another instance where we appear to be punishing the many for the actions of the few,” said Herrity, who reported a total of six complaints were received last year.

Church groups, scouting organizations or even sports fans drawn to a home’s big-screen TV during playoffs could be potential targets of the proposed county law. Realtors worry that even open houses would invite civil penalties.

John Whitehead, an attorney and president of the civil-libertarian Rutherford Institute, calls the Fairfax plan “nefarious.”

“Broad enactments like these have governments assuming that private property is their property,” Whitehead said in an interview with Watchdog.org.

“If you can’t determine what goes on at your own residence, you have surrendered your rights. The Constitution is founded on property rights.”

Nevertheless, some courts have upheld aggressive zoning restrictions. In Phoenix, a minister was sentenced to 60 days in jail for conducting Bible study classes with 10 people at a home.

Herrity, who beat back a controversial dance-hall regulation two years ago, said Fairfax County already has several codes that address neighborhood nuisances.

“We should be focusing on dealing with the issues and not restricting groups’ rights to assemble,” he said.

The Board of Supervisors is moving ahead with three public-comment sessions on the staff-drafted ordinance:

  • Wednesday, May 7, South County Government Center, 8350 Richmond Highway, Alexandria.
  • Monday, May 12, Fairfax County Government Center, 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax.
  • Monday, May 19, Lemon Road Elementary School, 7230 Idylwood Road, Falls Church.

All meetings run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Kenric Ward is a national reporter for Watchdog.org and chief of the Virginia Bureau. Contact him at kenric@watchdogvirginia.org or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward

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