Court decision allows Ventura homeless ministry to continue
Harbor Missionary Church, also known as 'The Harbor,' began Operation Embrace in 2008 to reach the homeless in the the Ventura community.
Pacific Justice Institute advocacy helps The Harbor continue homeless ministry
By BRAD DACUS, ESQ.
More good news! Last week, I told you about believers from India who Pacific Justice Institute was able to help win a permit to worship on their property in Los Angeles. On March 14, we got another great court decision, this time in favor of a homeless ministry.
Harbor Missionary Church in Ventura (a.k.a ‘The Harbor‘) began Operation Embrace in 2008 to reach the homeless in their community. The church provided clothing, meals, showers and other necessities in accordance with instructions in Matthew 25 to serve “the least of these.” The church took a number of steps to minimize impact on the neighborhood, such as hiring security, enforcing a strict “no loitering” policy, and establishing a hotline for neighbors to call with any complaints.
In 2013, the City demanded that the church apply for a conditional use permit … and then denied the permit. The city ignored all of the mitigation measures taken by the church, as well as the recommendation of city staff to approve the permit.
Harbor Missionary Church sought relief in court, but a federal judge disputed their religious beliefs. The court felt that church buildings should be used for worship, not serving the needy. The court thought the church could simply move its homeless ministry somewhere else, and it denied an injunction.
The church appealed, and their attorneys asked PJI to submit a friend-of-the-court brief since we have extensive experience in this area. On Monday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision. The Ninth Circuit held that the lower court erred by second-guessing the church’s religious calling to minister to the needy. The Ninth Circuit also relied on another PJI case that we won in 2011 against the City of San Leandro.
It’s encouraging to me that an important court like the Ninth Circuit is still willing to side with churches against government encroachment on their ministry to the poor. Churches have been leading the way in ministering to the poor for the past two millennia. We at PJI have been privileged to represent many such ministries and outreaches, and I’m glad we were able to play a supporting role in this case.
Your continued support of PJI makes these victories possible, and it opens doors for other ministries to boldly fulfill their callings to reach a hurting world.
Brad Dacus, Esq. is founder and president of the Pacific Justice Institute based in Sacramento, Calif.