|Feeding the homeless in downtown|
credit: Isaiah 61 Ministries/Flickr
A Christian ministry in Pennsylvania has claimed that officials in Dauphin County are violating their rights by preventing them from feeding the homeless and threatening them with arrest, according to reports.
The non-profit Isaiah 61 Ministries has offered food and scripture to homeless people on county property for five years, according to local ABC affiliate WHTM. Yet the county has now kicked them off of courthouse property.
“The county’s basically come up to them and said they’re not welcome in any area any longer and threatened them with loitering,” said Randall Wenger, an attorney who is representing the Christian group.
Jeremy Dys, an attorney with Liberty Institute, said that the county is hindering the group’s ability to minister to people and is blocking a program that benefits the community.
“The reality though is that serving the homeless and the elderly is a central tenet of the Christian faith, and those who exercise their faith by caring for the poor on the streets of Harrisburg ought to be applauded for their kindness, not threatened with jail time,” Dys said to OneNewsNow.
However, officials in Dauphin County say that they have been working with the ministry to find a new location.
Their work on county property has created a health and safety issue for county workers and others who work in the complex, officials said.
“We’ve had escalating events of urination and defecation on the county property,” Dauphin County Deputy Chief Clerk Scott Burford said.
Dys said that the county has “invented a lot of excuses for why this can’t happen, but the reality is that they just want to hide the homeless.”
Texas-based Liberty Institute sent a letter to Dauphin County Commissioners informing them that their actions are violating the First Amendment, according to OneNewsNow.
However, Dys told PennLive that a potential agreement between the county and Isaiah 61 could solve the problem.
Burford said that the county hopes to soon present an agreement that would allow the ministry to use the parking lot for the administration building during certain evening hours if they provide clean up and assume some other responsibilities.
“They are entitled to put limitations on the use of the property,” Dys said. “We’d certainly entertain any suggestions they have.”
While Isaiah 61 has moved to another location, other ministries continue to use the county parking lot, according to PennLive.
The ministry believes the county is attempting to pressure them into partnering with a brick-and-mortar homeless operation, which the group is opposed to based on their philosophy of street ministry.
Dys contends that the restriction on Isaiah 61 substantially burdens their religious exercise without “a compelling government interest.”
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