St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church is fighting a town edict that prohibits the church from feeding homeless people more than twice a week – and in so doing, is defending the right to religious expression through good works.
The city council of Brookings, Oregon, passed an ordinance in late October that severely restricts area ministries from feeding the city’s homeless population. The new ordinance halves the ability of St. Timothy’s to provide food – from four days a week to just two. The ordinance, which directly targets the church and faith ministries in the area, was passed after some city residents complained about the ministry’s soup kitchens. St. Timothy’s is not the only target of such measures. Localities around the country have tightened restrictions that give aid to the homeless.
This case reminds us that the First Amendment does not merely protect the rights of the religious to worship on Sunday (or Friday, or Saturday). It also protects the right to express devotion by helping the helpless. Charitable work has been fundamental to religious ministry in the United States since the country was founded. As Rev. Bernie Lindley, vicar of St. Timothy’s, said, “Feeding hungry people is at the core of what our church believes Jesus calls us to do. We do not see how a municipality can interfere with that mission without violating our constitutional right to freely practice our faith.”
That is the essence of religious expression. It’s no wonder the leading religious liberty law firm, Becket, recently awarded their 2021 Ebenezer Award to Brookings, Oregon.