Why Are Some American Cities Persecuting Pastors?

May 10, 2024
Cities Hurting Pastors | First Liberty Insider

by Jorge Gomez • 7 min read

We often think about religious persecution in China, North Korea or Iran, where there is little to no religious freedom. It’s difficult, to say the least, to be a pastor or a member of a church in these repressive countries.

In the U.S., being a religious person doesn’t come with same threat of physical violence or attacks that people of faith in other nations face. Even still, it’s hard to deny that religious hostility—and yes, even some forms of violence—are gaining ground in our country. Simply put, it’s getting harder for religious leaders in America to freely live out their faith.

More and more American pastors are being harassed and singled out for carrying out their religious mission. In particular, some cities and local officials are targeting pastors who take care of the most vulnerable among us.

Just look at these cases that First Liberty is fighting right now.

City officials in Bryan, Ohio are once again filing criminal charges against Pastor Chris Avell of Dad’s Place Church.

The city simply will not stop harassing Pastor Chris. This all started when because Mayor Carrie Schlade decided to launch a crusade against the church. This is the second time the city has criminally charged Pastor Chris and tried to shut down his ministry.

Talk about no good deed going unpunished. Pastor Chris made the decision last year to keep the church doors open 24/7. When bitter winter weather hit the region, many people had no place to go. Dad’s Place Church welcomed them in. For over a year, they’ve kept the doors open all day, every day to serve and minster to anyone who needed help.

If the criminal charges weren’t enough, the city also sent police and fire officials to Dad’s Place at 5:30 a.m. one day for an unannounced inspection and alleged fire code violations. They threatened fines of $1,000 per day if the church didn’t immediately halt its 24-hour ministry. Less than 48 hours after that surprise inspection, they filed the criminal charges.

Pastor Jose Castro in San Luis, Arizona is facing similar harassment.

Pastor Jose leads Gethsemani Baptist Church. For 25 years, he has run a food ministry to help hungry families. The congregation has distributed hundreds of thousands of pounds of food to its community. About 300 families receive food with every distribution. The church also donates food to other churches in surrounding cities and in California.

But San Luis city officials are trying to shut down the church’s food ministry.

On one occasion, while Pastor Jose passed out emergency food supplies to a small group of people at the church, a city code enforcer showed up unannounced and issued four citations. Less than a week later, when a third party parked a truck in front of the church for just five minutes, the code enforcer returned and issued Pastor Jose four more citations.

Not only will Pastor Jose have to pay fines in municipal court, each future violation may result in criminal charges.

These aggressive tactics forced Gethsemani to pause its ministry, as the church and Pastor Jose cannot afford the heavy fines or to relocate.  Because of the City and Mayor Nieves Riedel’s intimidation tactics, the church cannot feed the hungry.

Some cities won’t even let a pastor have people over for worship in his own home, as is the case with Pastor Howard Kaloogian in Weare, New Hampshire.

Last year, he planted a church called Grace New England. It’s part of Grace Community Church, whose main campus is in Houston. The small congregation meets at Pastor Howard’s home—specifically his barn—every Saturday.

The barn is fully renovated. Pastor Howard added pews, a pulpit and a heater to make sure his congregation can worship comfortably. It’s usually no more than 30 people gathered at a time.

But town officials say that’s not allowed. They ordered church gatherings to stop. Plus, they’re making the Pastor jump through endless hoops just to have people over for worship and prayer.

Town officials, however, routinely turn a blind eye to homes used for secular assemblies like Super Bowl parties, book clubs and other gatherings in private homes.

This isn’t just happening to Christian pastors. Cities are also harassing rabbis and Jewish congregations.

Rabbi Levi Gerlitzky lives on the Big Island of Hawaii. He’s facing more than $40,000 in zoning fines. County officials are penalizing him for hosting religious gatherings at home.

Rabbi Levi Illulian in Beverly Hills, California dealt with similar threats for worshipping at home, until First Liberty stepped in and the city backed down.

There’s no denying it. Religious leaders across the country are being harassed and the attacks only appear to get worse each time. Such harsh treatment is a far cry from America’s values. It has no place in a country founded on religious freedom.

Cities that intentionally single out pastors, rabbis or any other religious leaders aren’t just betraying our founding principles. They’re breaking the law. The Constitution and federal law require cities and governments to treat religious leaders the same as everyone else. They expressly protect Americans of all faiths from religious discrimination.

Social Facebook Social Instagram Twitter X Icon | First Liberty Institute Social Youtube Social Linkedin

Terms of UsePrivacy PolicyState DisclosuresSitemap • © 2024 Liberty Institute® is a trademark of First Liberty Institute