In March 2023, Pastor Chris Avell of “Dad’s Place” in Bryan, Ohio began operating his ministry 24 hours a day to serve the most vulnerable in his local community.  For months, Dad’s place did so without incident.

But in late 2023, the City sent a cease and desist letter to the Church, ordering it to stop allowing overnight guests within 10 days or face criminal prosecution, with each day of operation constituting a new criminal offense. After the Church refused to comply, the City filed 18 separate criminal charges. Mayor Carrie Schlade also refused to meet with Pastor Chris to even discuss the charges, which her office was helping to oversee.

Then, on the Sunday morning of New Year’s Eve, the police abruptly showed up at the church to issue the criminal charges for keeping his church open and daring to care for the homeless in the frigid winter.

Dad’s Place originally decided to keep its doors open 24/7 to anyone in the community wishing to use its facilities in part because with the homeless shelter across the street was often full, leaving many vulnerable people in jeopardy and at risk of having nowhere to go in Bryan.

Pastor Avell said, “The ministry of the church is not confined to Sunday morning at 11am.  We welcome anyone to experience the love and truth of Jesus, regardless of the time of day.”

Although the City is dealing with housing shortages (and even the local homeless shelter is often full), the City is still filing criminal charges against the pastor for trying to fulfill a need within his community.

The City set a date for Pastor Chris’ arraignment in January 2024, and the prosecutor opposed delaying the arraignment so that Pastor Chris could have legal counsel present for the hearing. The pastor was facing criminal charges, yet the prosecutor seemed to not want the defendant to have legal representation! First Liberty stepped in and was able to represent Pastor Chris as he pleaded “not guilty” to the criminal charges.

On January 22, 2024, First Liberty Institute and the law firms Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP and Spengler Nathanson PLL filed a federal lawsuit and motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Bryan, Ohio and city officials seeking to shut down the religious activities of Dad’s Place and Pastor Chris Avell.  Avell faced nearly two dozen criminal charges for keeping his church open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The next day, a district court judge granted a temporary restraining order against city officials.

In February, First Liberty and city officials in Bryan announced that the city agreed to drop all criminal charges against Pastor Chris.  Dad’s Place in turn agreed to cease residential operations and to seek proper building certifications, and zoning permits for the operations it plans to pursue together with the installation of any necessary safety measures associated with those permits.  Negotiations continue as both sides seek to find a final resolution to the matter.

Dad’s Place and city officials expressed appreciation for the steps that have been taken.

Bryan Mayor Carrie Schlade stated, “The city of Bryan appreciates the willingness of Dad’s Place to work with the city to resolve the parties’ differences amicably and to ensure that the services provided by Dad’s Place are delivered in a safe manner.  The parties continue to work together in a concerted effort to bring the case to a final resolution.”

“I am thankful to God, the city, and for everyone who has been praying for this day to come.” said Pastor Chris .  “Bryan is my home. I am eager to continue to serve God, my community, and the people I love.”

“We are grateful that the city of Bryan has dropped the criminal charges against Pastor Avell,” said Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel at First Liberty. “Ministries like Dad’s Place provide vital public services to their communities.  We will continue our conversations with city officials in hopes that we can find a final resolution where Dad’s Place can continue to serve those in need in its community.”

Stephen Hartman of Spengler Nathanson said, “We are encouraged by this initial step by the City in resolving this matter and look forward to talking with the City about how Pastor Chris and Dad’s Place will continue to contribute to the wonderful community of Bryan.”

Philip Williamson of Taft Law added, “We appreciate the city for working toward dropping the criminal charges and will do all we can to ensure that Dad’s Place can keep its doors open to those it seeks to help.”

Marc Fishel, Bryan City Attorney said, “The City’s has always focused on health and safety and we are grateful that the parties are working towards a solution.”

Attorneys for Dad’s Place and officials with the City of Bryan met for an extended period in U.S. District Court on February 1, 2024.  The purpose of the meeting was to engage in mediation about the disputes between the parties.  The parties worked cooperatively and will continue seeking to find common ground in an effort to settle the pending lawsuit.

News Release
For Immediate Release: 2.8.24
Contact: John Manning, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Statement from Dad’s Place, Attorneys, and City of Bryan, OH Regarding Ongoing Negotiations 

Bryan, OH—First Liberty Institute and city officials in Bryan, Ohio announced today that the city has agreed to drop all criminal charges against Dad’s Place Pastor Chris Avell.  Dad’s Place has in turn agreed cease residential operations and to seek proper building certifications, and zoning permits for the operations it plans to pursue together with the installation of any necessary safety measures associated with those permits.  Negotiations continue as both sides seek to find a final resolution to the matter.

Dad’s Place and city officials expressed appreciation for the steps that have been taken.

Bryan Mayor Carrie Schlade stated, “The city of Bryan appreciates the willingness of Dad’s Place to work with the city to resolve the parties’ differences amicably and to ensure that the services provided by Dad’s Place are delivered in a safe manner.  The parties continue to work together in a concerted effort to bring the case to a final resolution.”

“I am thankful to God, the city, and for everyone who has been praying for this day to come.” said Pastor Chris Avell of Dad’s Place.  “Bryan is my home. I am eager to continue to serve God, my community, and the people I love.”

“We are grateful that the city of Bryan has dropped the criminal charges against Pastor Avell,” said Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel at First Liberty. “Ministries like Dad’s Place provide vital public services to their communities.  We will continue our conversations with city officials in hopes that we can find a final resolution where Dad’s Place can continue to serve those in need in its community.”

Stephen Hartman of Spengler Nathanson said, “We are encouraged by this initial step by the City in resolving this matter and look forward to talking with the City about how Pastor Chris and Dad’s Place will continue to contribute to the wonderful community of Bryan.”

Philip Williamson of Taft Law added, “We appreciate the city for working toward dropping the criminal charges and will do all we can to ensure that Dad’s Place can keep its doors open to those it seeks to help.”

Marc Fishel, Bryan City Attorney said, “The City’s has always focused on health and safety and we are grateful that the parties are working towards a solution.”

Attorneys for Dad’s Place and officials with the City of Bryan met for an extended period in U.S. District Court on February 1, 2024.  The purpose of the meeting was to engage in mediation about the disputes between the parties.  The parties worked cooperatively and will continue seeking to find common ground in an effort to settle the pending lawsuit.

###

About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact John Manning at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.


News Release – 1.23.24

News Release – 1.22.24

Chris Avell 0011

Pastor Christopher Avell

Dad's House Hearing Photo

Dad's Place Outside

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