In Texas, the city of Plano ordered a ministry for women and children in crisis to stop meeting for prayer and Bible study, saying it violates a city ordinance that disallows more than eight people to gather in a house.
Agape Resource and Assistance Center, Inc., maintains several houses as homes for women and their children–as well as children with no parents–providing them with shelter, food, and counseling. It is a Christian ministry to help and defend those in dire need.
A Plano ordinance requires that no such home can house more than eight people. Agape complies with this ordinance, maintaining several houses and ensuring that there are never more than eight people sheltered in any one home.
However, once per month, Agape gathers all the women and children in the same house for three hours. During this time they share a meal together and have a church service with a message from the Bible and time for prayer and showing mutual support.
Plano issued a cease-and-desist letter to Agape, telling the ministry that it is not permitted to gather the women and children together. The city interprets the ordinance as not allowing more than eight people in the same house, even for such a short period of time and for that sort of gathering.
The ordinance would allow recreational events with more than eight people. For example, a Plano resident could have a Super Bowl party with 20 people. But if that resident has 20 people in the house for three hours of prayer and hearing the Bible, that’s illegal.
Lawyers from Liberty Institute have teamed up with Dallas-area lawyer Kirte Kinser, sending a demand letter to Plano officials. The letter demands the city rescind its order or face a blistering lawsuit for violating Agape’s rights under (1) the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, (2) the Texas Constitution, (3) the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), and (4) the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“It is unlawful and unjust for the City of Plano to ban the ministry of Agape Resources and Assistance from fulfilling its calling to serve local women and children in crisis,” said Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute’s Director of Litigation. “We are hopeful that the City of Plano will lift its unlawful ban, and no further legal action will be necessary. This is an outrageous violation of our client’s religious freedom,” Sasser concluded.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal analyst for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.