by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read
First Liberty is representing Pastor Chris Avell of Dad’s Place, a church in Bryan, Ohio. He’s facing 18 criminal charges for violating the city’s zoning laws.
The city is going after him because earlier this year Pastor Chris opened the church 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He’s seeking to serve homeless people.
In November 2023, the city sent a letter ordering the church to stop allowing overnight guests or face criminal prosecution. This past Sunday—on New Year’s Eve—police showed up at the church. They handed the Pastor a packet of multiple charges and violations.
Our attorneys will be attending a court hearing next week, on January 11, to defend the Pastor and the church.
First Liberty attorney Jeremy Dys and Pastor Chris appeared on Fox News earlier this week discussing the case:
Pastor Chris said he’s willing to face those charges for the sake of the church’s mission.
“I was spiritually homeless and God provided a home for me. He’s put a burden on my heart for the homeless,” Pastor Chris said. “Many of these people have been rejected by their families and cast aside by their communities. So, if the church isn’t willing to lay down it’s life for them, then who will? This is what we’re called to do.”
“The city would rather kick these folks to the curb in the cold outdoor months of December and early January than allow the church to remain open 24/7 to those who need it the most,” Dys said. “It’s unconscionable. We’re going to hold them accountable.”
“This isn’t a homeless shelter, it’s a church,” said Pastor Chris in an interview with The Village Reporter. “But we have put in things people can use, like a shower and a small ability to do laundry. Some who found this to be a home for them have stuck around.”
The Pastor says he began opening the building this way, because the local homeless shelter was often full, which led to the needs of many vulnerable people not being met. He says at least a hundred have been helped in some way by his church being opened 24/7.
“We are in support of what they are doing,” said the Director of Operations at the Sanctuary of Williams County Homeless Shelter about the church’s efforts. “The city, churches and community in general should work together. We need to work together to help people in need. There is nowhere else for these people in Williams County to go. We have to turn away around 600 people every year.”
Houses of worship and religious organizations do tremendous work to care for vulnerable communities. More efficient and effective than government agencies alone, they fill the gap where it’s most needed, whether it’s by providing shelter or critical services such as counseling, rehabilitation, job placement, food, clothing or other essential goods.
What’s more, in many cases faith-based organizations offer more than temporary relief or assistance. They minister, care and seek to address the root spiritual needs of those they serve.
Singling out houses of worship 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.
A Proven Record: Helping Faith-Based Ministries Be a Light to Those in Need
Thank you for supporting First Liberty. You’re the driving force that keeps us on the frontlines. Here are just a few of many wins you helped us secure to make sure people of faith can be a light and serve those around them:
Please give to First Liberty today, so we can keep defending—and winning—for houses of worship and religious organizations across the country.