Parishioners at a South Florida church said they think their city officials are unfairly targeting their church and prayer services.
Every Sunday, Pastor Mike Olive of Lake Worth, Florida says he holds two prayer services at his coffee shop, the Common Ground Coffee Bar. Olive alleges city officials secretly attended and recorded one of his services in order to shut down his ministry.
“We had one gentleman come in from the city wearing a hoodie, and he was hiding the camera in the pockets of his hoodie,” Olive told told CBS 12.
Shortly after the unknown visitor came to the service, Olive said he received a note from his landlord saying the coffee bar does not have the authority to operate as place of religious practice.
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Olive said he thinks the city is infringing on his right to practice his religion free from persecution.
Other churches in the area said they faced similar problems with the city of Lake Worth. They claim the city is forcing them to have a "business tax," despite federal tax exceptions that have been in place for the last 40 years.
In 1970, the Supreme Court ruled in Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York that property tax exemptions for places of worship is constitutional.
However, representatives from the First Baptist Church in Lake Worth said they paid the city around $500 for inspection and use of occupancy fees. City councilmembers did not specify the purpose of the tax when asked by local media.
“I can't tell you the exact answer on that," Lake Worth city councilmember Christopher McVoy told CBS 12. "It's not a business tax, but there will be a fee involved.”
Due to financial pressure by the city, Olive reportedly held his last church service on Feb. 29. Despite getting shut down, Olive said he thinks the city should not go undercover or perform murky investigations when investigating a church.
“I think it's very important that people are not afraid to practice that faith-- whatever that faith is,” Olive said.
Photo Credit: Running Through This World