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Religious Nonprofit in Santa Ana Punished for Feeding Homeless People

June 14th, 2023

The "weird churches" in America test the limits of religions freedom and tolerance for less popular beliefs and practices.
A Christian nonprofit in Santa Ana was threatened with criminal charges for feeding homeless people at it resource center.

Almost everyone can agree that feeding homeless people is a good thing. After all, these are people who have little to nothing of their own. Regardless of whether you are religious, there is a moral obligation to help those in need, and this is exactly why one group in Santa Ana decided to take it upon themselves to feed these “unhoused” individuals. One thing is certain: The government certainly needs help with the homeless problem spreading across the United States. But as it turns out, the government is also willing to punish people for trying to help homeless people – how could this be possible? 

Santa Ana Threatens to Take Criminal Action Against Group Feeding Homeless People

In May 2023, it was reported that the City of Santa Ana had threatened a religious nonprofit with criminal charges after they began feeding homeless people at their resource center. The city authorities apparently believed that the nonprofit did not have a proper “certificate of occupancy,” and this meant that it was violating the municipal code. At the time, the group was distributing food and drinks through its resource center – something that many people seriously appreciated. It seems a little strange that a city municipality would deny desperate people food and drink just because a minor bylaw was being violated.

The Justice Department Steps in

But not all government agencies in the United States were opposed to this nonprofit. The Justice Department eventually decided to step in and support the nonprofit organization, stressing the fact that this could constitute a constitutional violation. The decision to help other people in need can be interpreted as an exercise of religious freedom – something that is protected under the Constitution. But does this give groups the ability to go against municipal code? This is something that will be explored in an upcoming lawsuit – although one would assume that the answer is “yes.”

A representative from the Justice Department stated:

“Many faith-based organizations across the country are on the front lines serving the needs of people experiencing homelessness. The Justice Department is committed to enforcing federal civil rights laws to ensure that all religious groups can freely exercise their religious beliefs.”

What makes this story even more interesting is the fact that the religious group seems to have made every effort to comply with municipal bylaws. When they were told that they needed to obtain a certificate of occupancy, they followed the correct protocol and applied for the certificate. However, they were then denied due to “zoning restrictions.” At this point, the group seems to have abandoned all hope of satisfying these Kafkaesque requirements, preferring to help those directly in need. 

The City Responds

In response, the city claims that the religious group has not shown that its constitutional rights were infringed upon and that the distribution of food and drink was not even a protected religious activity in the first place. They also point out that the city is doing enough to feed homeless people on their own – implying that they do not need any help from religious nonprofits. Would hungry, homeless individuals agree with this statement?

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