Host a Home Bible Study, Get Fined $500

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Hide yo' crosses, hide yo' Bibles?  

A San Juan Capistrano couple has been ordered by the city to stop hosting a weekly Bible study unless they obtain the permit required for churches. 

Homeowners Chuck and Stephanie Fromm have already been fined $300 for their gatherings, and city officials said that future meetings would be subject to a $500 fine per event.

According to The Capistrano Dispatch, the citations say they violated section 9-3.301 of the Capistrano Municipal Code, which prohibits "religious, fraternal or non-profit" organizations in residential neighborhoods without a conditional-use permit.

The Fromm's Wednesday Bible study draws about 20 people, and their Sunday-morning gatherings draw as many as 50, the Dispatch reports.

City spokeswoman Cathy Salcedo told the Los Angeles Times in an email that San Juan Capistrano does not prohibit home Bible studies, and that the case is about "street access and parking."

The city rejected Fromm's appeal of the fine, so the couple is now taking the issue to Orange County Superior Court. Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) will represent them.  

Writes PJI:

There was no noise beyond normal conversation and quiet music on the home stereo system. They met inside their family room and patio area. Many neighbors have written letters of support, denying they were disturbed by the presence of the Bible study. The group is not affiliated with any particular church, nor is it seeking to establish a church in the home.
In a statement, PJI president Brad Dacus added, "An informal gathering in a home cannot be treated with suspicion by the government, or worse than any other gathering of friends, just because it is religious."

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