Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Monday, Jan. 29 @ 10:16 a.m. / Community, Homelessness, Local Government, Oregon
Date Set For Oral Arguments in St. Tim's Lawsuit Against Brookings
A federal judge will hear oral arguments in St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church et a. v. City of Brookings at 2 p.m. Feb. 15.
The hearing will take place at the James A. Redden United States Courthouse in Medford, Oregon and will focus on the church’s Religious Land Use and First Amendment claims against Brookings.
St. Timothy’s lawsuit seeks to keep the City of Brookings from enforcing an ordinance Councilors approved on Oct. 25, 2021 requiring organizations to obtain a conditional use permit to host “benevolent meal services.”
The ordinance had restricted those meal services to three hours a day, two days per week. However on Nov. 15, 2023, the City Council revised the ordinance to allow charitable organizations, including churches, to feed the hungry two hours per day, three days per week.
The Brookings City Council had approved the original ordinance in an effort to prevent those who are homeless from gathering around St. Timothy’s 401 Fir Street property.
St. Timothy Episcopal Church filed its lawsuit in January 2022, right after the city’s ordinance went into effect. According to St. Timothy’s motion, Brookings’ benevolent meal service ordinance violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, the First and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution and sections two, three and eight of Article 1 of the Oregon constitution.
“The record shows that the city officials designed the ordinance not only to restrict the plaintiffs’ feed ministry, but to create a path to impose new conditions on activities that the church deemed insufficiently church-like,” the plaintiff’s Oct. 6, 2023 motion for summary judgment states.
In its motion for summary judgment also filed on Oct. 6, 2023, the City of Brookings argues that their ordinance stemmed from an April 2021 complaint signed by 29 residents living near St. Timothy’s. Officials determined that Oregon state law doesn’t allow restaurants to operate in residential zones and that St. Timothy’s soup kitchen and others “were already violating long-standing city land use ordinances.”
“The city created a new legal pathway to continue the benevolent meal services already being provided in residential zones,” Brookings’ motion for summary judgment states. “If the city had not done so, all benevolent meal services in residential zones were violating the city’s land-use code.”
On Nov. 21, 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest stating that the city’s decision to restrict St. Timothy’s distribution of meals to the hungry may have “substantially burdened religious exercise under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.”
St. Timothy had fed the hungry for more than a decade prior to Brookings enacting its ordinance, the Justice Department stated. The church has also testified that it feels a religious duty to provide food to those in need.