For years, a battle has brewed between the city of Oakland Park and All Saints, a Catholic church that is independent of the archdiocese and also operates a soup kitchen. Business owners and residents in the city have complained about the homeless people who patronize the soup kitchen, saying they loiter and defecate on property.
The city passed a zoning ordinance in 2014 that specifically prohibited “parish houses” — defined as a “room or building associated with a church… for charitable use.” Now several people close to the matter are saying that the Department of Justice has been asked to investigate the zoning law because it violates federal protections on religious freedom
In response to the Oakland Park ordinance, All Saints church leader Father Bob Caudill moved his kitchen from a separate building (his "parish house") into his church building. The church was ordered to shut down its feeding operation. But Caudill refused.
Caudill's attorney, Richard Rosenbaum, says he is representing All Saints on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union. Rosenbaum says he is currently "getting ready to file an injunction to stop the city from enforcing its unconstitutional ordinance that stops the pastor from feeding the homeless." He says he is fighting an order of enforcement dated March 17, which includes the $125-per-day charges, bringing All Saints' charges up to $4,500 in fines. The pastor in the fall said he had also racked up $19,000 in legal fees.
Caudill remains defiant. "We have the ACLU on our side," he says. "[The city is]
Yesterday, people affiliated with All Saints protested the city of Oakland Park by interrupting a culinary event at city hall and staging a protest they called "Jesus and the Tax Collectors."
Parishioner Arthur Carl
In a press release announcing yesterday's protest,
A source familiar with the matter was more cautious, saying it was unclear whether a formal investigation would be opened. A DOJ spokesperson did not respond to a message this week.
Any investigation could center on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), a federal law passed in 2000 designed to protect religious institutions from discrimination in zoning laws. It states that, except in certain instances, "No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution."
It was Fort Lauderdale's ordinances,
Fort Lauderdale made international headlines in 2014 when it passed several city ordinances, which critics called "homeless hate laws," designed to keep homeless people away from parks and businesses. The ordinances cracked down on panhandling and sleeping on city
Abbott was one of three clergymen cited for violating Fort Lauderdale's food-sharing ordinance. He runs a charity called Love Thy Neighbor. Also cited: Mark Sims of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs, and Pastor Dwayne Black of the Sanctuary Church.
Lawyers for those men say that the case against Black was dismissed. They say that Sims and Abbott's cases were won on the grounds that they were exercising their right to freedom of religion by feeding the poor — but that the city has appealed the ruling on the grounds that the feeding could still be regulated to some degree. As the cases continue to wind through court, the attorneys on both sides have been working to fashion an alternate ordinance.
Lawyer Phyllis Pritcher, who represented Black, said that as a small business owner herself, "I understand that when [homeless] people are laying on the sidewalk, people tend not to want to shop there." She hoped to see compromise, she said, but the city was "pretty much sticking to these crazy things — like requiring groups with more than six people to apply for a permit in 30 days, to have washing stations, to have to have bathrooms. As [
Rogow, who represents Sims, says that "The city has spent eight or nine months trying to develop an ordinance that it thinks will meet its needs and still allow for the exercise of peoples' religious rights and feeding the poor. But we're not satisfied." He called the city's new proposed versions "draconian,
Rogow says feedings could be managed by enforcing simple ordinances already on the books, like litter laws. "I don't understand why the city would expend its resources on this." The city, he surmised, seems to think that visitors should "not be exposed to the underside of life, which is poor and hungry people. I think it's important they do see it."
The pending cases against Sims and Abbott, he says, keep getting stalled in court. "I don't think they have the heart to prosecute them."
Rogow, Pritcher, and Shrout all said they had no knowledge of any Department of Justice investigation.
Fort Lauderdale spokesperson Chaz Adams did not return a phone call seeking comment.
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Here are documents showing that All Saints was found in violation of zoning and fined: