RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. --- A city in Southern California is demanding that a small home Bible study group stop meeting because it does not have an expensive permit. The permit is not required for similar-sized gatherings in homes, such as book clubs, birthday parties or gatherings centered around sporting events. City officials have also indicated that they might not even grant a permit if it is requested. The city's stance has similarities to, but is perhaps even harsher than, a pending situation in Gilbert, Arizona, and a flare-up last year over a home Bible study in San Diego County.
In Rancho Cucamonga, the Bible study group, which meets on Friday nights, averages about fifteen attendees. The group is affiliated with Shiloh Tabernacle, which rents out a community center for its Sunday morning service and, like countless other churches across the country, offers smaller Bible studies that meet in members' homes during the week.
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The City of Rancho Cucamonga has sent a letter to the homeowner insisting that the home Bible study is not allowed because it is a "church," and churches require a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) in residential areas. The City has also indicated that no CUP would be granted and the gatherings must cease by Good Friday, April 2. Pacific Justice Institute Senior Counsel Michael Peffer, who heads PJI's Southern California office, represents the homeowner where the Bible study meets and will vigorously contest the City’s actions. PJI has guided dozens of churches through the CUP process but has only recently seen it being applied to home Bible studies. CUP's require public hearings and regularly require the applicants to obtain traffic studies, architectural design reviews and even seismic retrofits. In California, the process often costs churches hundreds of thousands of dollars-which probably explains why it is almost never applied to informal gatherings in homes.
"Imposing a CUP requirement on a home Bible study is manifestly absurd and unjust," said Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute. "I don't know of a single court in America that would approve their actions. We will give the City a chance to rescind its letter without litigation, but we are fully prepared to take this as far as is necessary to defend this Bible study group—and countless others like it."