Oregon city can’t limit church’s homeless meal services, federal judge rules

BROOKINGS, Ore. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that a southern Oregon city can’t limit a local church’s homeless meal services.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke found that an ordinance passed by the small city of Brookings, on the southern Oregon coast, violated the religious freedom rights of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, KGW reported. He issued his opinion on Wednesday.

The 2021 ordinance limited the church’s homeless meal services to two days a week, and required a permit to serve free food in residential areas. It was passed in response to resident complaints.

The church sued the city in 2022, saying the ordinance violated its right to freely practice religion.

KGW reported the church’s Rev. Bernie Lindley describing feeding people as an expression of religious belief.

“That’s the way we express our faith: by caring for people who are on the margins, especially people who are hungry,” Lindley said.

Attorneys for the city did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The church has served free meals since 2009, according to KGW. During the pandemic, they increased meal services to six per week, which prompted the resident complaints.

In his ruling, Clarke said the city didn’t provide a sufficient reason for restricting the number of days the church can serve free meals.

But the church’s legal battles are not over yet. KGW reported that the city is asking the church to stop shower and advocacy services, a move the church has appealed.

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