by Mia Gradick • 4 min read
First Liberty recently filed for a temporary restraining order on behalf of The Father’s House, a homeless and drug rehabilitation ministry of Living Water Full Gospel Church in Westmoreland, Tennessee. On April 21, 2023, without notice or legal reason, Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation shut off the electricity. We’re happy to report that the Court granted our motion, and the electric company has since restored power to their shelter and facilities.
After the lights were back on, First Liberty Attorney Ryan Gardner said:
“We’re pleased that Tri-County Electric swiftly complied with the court’s order. Even still, it’s outrageous that it cut off power to the Father’s House in the first place. The indifference to the health and well-being of those harmed by the unlawful power shut off was inhumane.”
Our volunteer attorney Steve Anderson of the law firm Anderson & Reynolds added:
“We are grateful that the court stepped in to prevent further harm to men who are already struggling with addiction. Tri-County Electric abused its power as a utility provider and nearly forced the men who rely on the Father’s House to support their sobriety back on the streets, putting their very lives in jeopardy.”
This isn’t the first time the church and its ministry have been singled out. We’ve defended The Father’s House for several months, after the city sent a cease-and-desist letter that would prevent it from operating. Our legal team sent a letter urging officials to withdraw the letter. We explained the city is violating state and federal law by keeping the ministry from fulfilling its mission to provide housing and support for men seeking to escape drug addiction.
More than two decades ago, the city approved the building for the ministry to operate as a “new addition” for “institutional” use. The city’s zoning ordinances specifically permit residential living in the attached structure owned by the church.
Last year, church leaders asked whether they needed additional permits to provide housing in their existing facility, which was already permitted. They were told there were no additional requirements or conditions that had to be met.
However, the city sent the church a threatening letter based on an alleged violation of the city’s building code. The city claimed the church must spend $85,000 to install a new sprinkler system and firewalls in its building, even though it never raised these issues in previous discussions.
“The Father’s House is already complying with the city’s zoning ordinances. There is simply no basis in the zoning ordinances—nor in any applicable building code—which justifies the city’s ‘Cease-and-Desist’ letter,” Gardner explained.
Not only are the city’s actions illegal, but they also defy common sense. Houses of worship and religious organizations like The Father’s House do tremendous work to care for vulnerable communities. Providing housing and assistance to help men become better and more productive citizens should be encouraged, rather than prevented.
Singling out and harassing religious ministries only hurts the most vulnerable among us. When it comes to helping people in need, we should encourage cooperation between church and state. And that starts by government following the law and treating houses of worship fairly. After all, when religious organizations are free to live out their faith and serve their neighbors, all Americans win.