A Pennsylvania couple is taking legal action after their town prohibited them from hosting a home Bible study, citing a zoning restriction on their property.
For decades and under previous ownership, the 35-acre property Scott and Terri Fetterolf own 15 miles west of Pittsburgh has been used to host not just Bible studies, but worship events, religious retreats, and church fundraisers. But last October, local officials told them that their property isn’t deemed a “place of worship,” so all religious activities there are now prohibited.
The couple has sued over the obvious violation of their First Amendment-protected rights. Last week, the Independence Law Center filed a lawsuit on their behalf arguing the government has “no business oversseing a group of people reading and discussing a book together on private property—even if that book is the Bible.”
The lawsuit asserts:
“Sewickley Heights is threatening the Fetterolfs with fines of $500 per day, plus court costs, including the Borough’s attorney’s fees, for having Bible studies at their home, having meetings where religious songs are sung, conducting any religious retreats for church leaders or seminary students for prayer or for camaraderie-building/fellowship time, and conducting any religious fundraisers.”
Independence Law Center Senior Counsel Jeremy Samek added:
“Government should not target religious activities for punishment, particularly when similar secular activities are permitted. In America, no government can categorically ban people from assembling to worship on one’s own property.”
The local government’s notice of zoning violation states that secular events on the Fetterolfs’ property would be perfectly acceptable. These include book studies, open-air rock concerts, business retreats, and political fundraisers.
In Sewickley Heights Borough, however, you just can’t include God or Jesus in the mix. The property owners and their attorneys at the Independence Law Center have pointed out that’s unconstitutional.
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