County Bans Ministries from Serving on Public Property

Isaiah 61 Ministries is a well-established, nonprofit Christian ministry with volunteers from various denominations. The ministry’s mission is to “[strive] to show those less fortunate that they are loved and not forgotten.” Every week, ministry volunteers provided meals, toiletries, clothing, and other forms of assistance to the homeless, poor, and elderly in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Isaiah 61 Ministries usually conducted its work on public property outside the Dauphin County courthouse.

However, in late summer 2013 and heading into the holiday season, the county issued a directive to Isaiah 61 Ministries and several other ministries prohibiting them from engaging in their ministerial work on public property.

The issue escalated to the point that the county threatened to arrest ministry workers and volunteers if they continued to serve on the county’s public property.

Legal Action

First Liberty Institute stepped in to help. Along with the Independence Law Center, First Liberty sent a demand letter on behalf of Isaiah 61 Ministries to the Dauphin County Commissioners for wrongfully pushing the ministries off of public property and threatening to arrest ministry workers and volunteers. The letter urged the commissioners to allow Isaiah 61 Ministries to continue its charitable work in the ministry’s usual spot on public property behind the county courthouse.

In the demand letter, First Liberty noted that the county’s actions violated the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act.

Just days before Christmas 2013, First Liberty received assurances that Isaiah 61 Ministries could serve Christmas dinner to the less fortunate on public property, and the ministry resumed its work on Christmas Eve outside the courthouse. The county also allowed Isaiah 61 Ministries to serve those in need on New Years Day and agreed to permit the ministry to continue its efforts on public property permanently.

The people at Isaiah 61 Ministries made the bold decision to stand up for their First Amendment rights. As the victory for the ministry shows, the law is on the side of religious liberty, and the freedom to exercise faith in the public arena can be preserved when people of faith stand up and speak out. First Liberty is committed to defending ministries across the country to ensure that they can continue to exercise their faith free from government interference and discrimination.


For Immediate Release: January 2, 2014

Contact: Melissa Sanz, Office: 972.941.4527,


Christian Ministry to Homeless, Poor, and Elderly Continues Service on Public Property

HARRISBURG, PA, January 2, 2014 — Today, Liberty Institute and Independence Law Center, on behalf of its client, Isaiah 61 Ministries – a well-established, non-profit Christian ministry serving the homeless, poor, and elderly population of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – announced that it­ has reached an agreement with the Dauphin County Commissioners that will permit the ministry to continue its efforts on public property.

“The Dauphin County Commission did the right thing by recognizing the liberty of Isaiah 61 and other people of faith to exercise their faith in public by serving the poor, homeless, and elderly,” said Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel at Liberty Institute.  “Those who live out their faith in public by serving the poor, elderly, and homeless ought to be applauded by their government, not punished.”

Randall Wenger, counsel for Independence Law Center said, “All too often, our leaders lose sight of our core liberties.  It is good to see Dauphin County leaders provide more freedom to fix the problems around us, rather than exert more government control that would simply get in the way.”

Every week, for over five years, staff and volunteers associated with Isaiah 61 Ministries have provided meals, toiletries, clothing, and other forms of assistance to the homeless men and women of Harrisburg, as well as to the poor and elderly. Because of threats made by the Dauphin County Commission late this past summer, Isaiah 61 Ministries, and several other ministries engaged in similar religious exercise throughout the rest of the week, had been unable to use public property to serve those most in need of help throughout the year.

Liberty Institute and Independence Law Center sent a demand letter to the Dauphin County Commission in November asking that these ministries be permitted to continue their humanitarian efforts and acts of Christian charity on public property.  Isaiah 61 Ministries resumed their ministry outside the Dauphin County Courthouse on Christmas Eve and now have the support of the county to continue their service there at least twice-per-week.

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About Liberty Institute

Liberty Institute is a national nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our Founding Fathers. For information, visit

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First Liberty Press Release – 11/18/13


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