Thursday, September 22, 2011

Doesn't anybody understand the Constitution? 

Via Glenn Reynolds, a rather amazing case of local government oppression:

An Orange County couple has been ordered to stop holding a Bible study in their home on the grounds that the meeting violates a city ordinance as a “church” and not as a private gathering.

Homeowners Chuck and Stephanie Fromm, of San Juan Capistrano, were fined $300 earlier this month for holding what city officials called “a regular gathering of more than three people”.

Friendly reminder:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The "free exercise" clause has applied to states since 1940, and the "freedom of assembly" clause has applied since 1937. The officials who are enforcing this ordinance should be impeached or, failing that, required to pay damages.


By Blogger Georgfelis, at Thu Sep 22, 12:01:00 PM:

The Bible, as re-written by California:

“Wherever three or more of you are gathered in My Name, there also shall also be Taxes, Permits, and Regulations.”
“Render under Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God, whatever tiny fraction is left over.”
“Thou Shalt Covet they neighbors house, and his 401K, and his retirement plan, and everything that is thy neighbors, for such is the Kingdom of Man.”
“But now if you have a purse left after taxation, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, good, there’s no reason for you to possess weapons.”  

By Blogger Rohan, at Thu Sep 22, 01:13:00 PM:

While I do think that "more than 3 people" is over-broad, the article states that more than 50 cars (so maybe 50-100 people) attended the meeting and were parked in the neighbourhood.

Surely that's a little excessive and impolite to your neighbours. Shouldn't the group rent a church or hall if the gatherings are going to be that big?  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Thu Sep 22, 03:10:00 PM:

"Constitiutional rights" clash with the state's "police power" all the time. The simple answer is that you can have rights, but you can't necessarily exercise them wherever and whenever you want.

The state's police power is the legal foundation for zoning laws.

This recalls the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque, which to me was always a NYC zoning issue. Wal*Mart would agree.  

By Anonymous JT, at Fri Sep 23, 08:26:00 AM:

Rohan ... unless the cars are parked illegally (in which case there's much more for the town to gain via tickets and towing charges), the number is largely irrelevant.  

By Anonymous tyree, at Fri Sep 23, 09:13:00 AM:

I'm from Orange County, CA. and this story is big news here. Apparently, none of the neighbors complained. The city government took it upon themselves to make sure "law and order" prevailed over a bunch of people meeting in someone's home. When we were younger, we used to hold prayer groups in our home, but the socialists were not as openly brazen about forcing their policies other citizens at that time. And maybe it's not anti-religious socialism driving the cities actions this time. Maybe it just good old fashioned government greed for money and power over the little people.  

By Blogger clint, at Fri Sep 23, 10:45:00 AM:

The problem is, even when the local government eventually gets overturned (after the religious homeowners spend their life savings on legal fees) -- the local officials involved won't face any real consequences for this.

Perhaps it's time for a federal civil rights law that applies criminal penalties to local officials who egregiously violate clearly enumerated civil rights?

Heck, no possibility of that ever coming back to bite us in the rear, right?

(wv: 'hemped')  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Fri Sep 23, 01:25:00 PM:

I'd want to see the actual ordinance before opining on whether it is constitutional or not. Local ordinances and zoning laws limit all kinds of activities as to time, place, and manner but that is a FAR cry from banning them outright. The ordinance may well be unconstitutional, but if it is, so are a whole lot of other zoning laws and local ordinances. And it's quite plain from this article that churches weren't the only orgs banned from having regular meetings in residential areas:

The Fromms’ citations say they violated section 9-3.301 of the Capistrano Municipal Code, which prohibits “religious, fraternal or non-profit” organizations in residential neighborhoods without a conditional-use permit. The footnote on the section says it “Includes churches, temples, synagogues, monasteries, religious retreats, and other places of religious worship and other fraternal and community service organizations.”

Capistrano’s code-enforcement department is reactive, meaning officers only respond to complaints. Stephanie Fromm said most residents in the neighborhood, off Rancho Viejo Road north of Junipero Serra Road, are supportive of them, although at least one neighbor has voiced concerns.

I'm suspicious of attempts to turn every local dispute into a violation of Constitutional Rights. Let them sort it out.


By Blogger Trochilus, at Fri Sep 23, 02:43:00 PM:

One commenter here seems to have arrived at the peculiar view that this matter should somehow turn on whether it is "impolite" to invite people into to your home to freely exercise First Amendment rights, based on his or her imaginary notion that available parking spaces will somehow be Bogarted by the attendees to the detriment of the neighbors, even though the story suggests that that is not the case!

I guess for that commenter, the issue comes down to:

May state action, in the form of local licensing and permitting authority, extend to imposing an obstruction to the exercise of at least two fundamental first amendment rights, in the light of a demonstrable showing on the part of the local authority of a "compelling state interest" in preserving the adequate availability of parking spaces for neighbors on the street during limited periods of time?

Hmmmmmmm . . . let me think?

At least one other commenter seems to suggest that "reasonable" restrictions on such fundamental rights might somehow take on an aura of constitutional permissibility, so long as they are enforceable against other sorts of "organizations" such as "other fraternal and community service organizations."

So . . .

May state action, in the form of local licensing and permitting authority, extend to the imposition of obstructions on the exercise of at least two fundamental First Amendment rights, so long as the ordinance, by its terms, is demonstrably enforceable against organizations, or gatherings, or individuals, other than those who are expressly protected against such state action by such First Amendment guarantees?

So . . . legislators and municipal officials may now circumvent fundamental constitutional guarantees by simply employing the drafting technique of "overbreadth" in crafting legislation?  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Fri Sep 23, 03:38:00 PM:

I'm a practicing Druid. I want to build and burn a Wicker Man in the backyard. I'm undecided whether to put someone in the Wicker Man when I do, but I've got a few candidates in mind.

Do I really need a permit? Must I be limited to daylight hours?  

By Blogger Trochilus, at Fri Sep 23, 05:16:00 PM:


Regarding your latest strawman comment, I am sure that you know that state or local officials would likely be more that capable of demonstrating a "compelling state interest" in adopting some form of legitimate restrictions on your expressed desire to burn a Wicker Man in your backyard, particularly where -- as you specifically said -- your every intention is to burn one that is large enough to "house," and to actually contain a man!

What you apparently do not want to address is what is quite obvious in this California case . . . these people are merely engaging in the obviously unobtrusive free exercise of religion, and their right to assembly, by holding prayer meetings.

For the state or local officials to intrude on the free exercise of two of their fundamental constitutional rights, the officials must demonstrate a "compelling state interest" in imposing any such restrictions.

Neither the parking argument nor any other that I've seen advanced so far by the officials, in any way meets that test.

Maybe that's why they (city officials) are now no longer talking.

"Officials with San Juan Capistrano did not respond to requests for comment."  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Fri Sep 23, 06:34:00 PM:

Prolix gratuitous sidebar: Another reason I hate The New York Times.

"falsum in uno, falsum in omnibus"

I'm following the Rugby World Cup that's being played down in New Zealand. There's 20 teams -- the Top 10 or so are all professionals, the rest are semi-pro. Teams like the USA Eagles are happy to be there, and even have school teachers in their line-up. Right now we're in pool play with the top two in each pool advancing to the quarterfinals.

The big game for the USA Eagles -- seeded #5 in Pool C -- was to beat the #4 seed, Russia, as I noted here before. Which the USA did, 13-6 in a bruising game. That's after the Eagles played #2 seed Ireland much closer than expected, losing only 22-10. (I also said that Ireland could play up to beat #1 seed Australia, which Ireland did in the biggest upset so far, 15-6).

So what just happened is that the USA played a very pissed-off Australian team, out to make amends. Looking ahead to the match against #3 Italy which is only a few days away -- which the USA has a chance of winning -- the USA coach replaced 14 of his best 15 with the rest of the bench. So the USA lost to Australia 67-5. But only after we knocked several Aussies out of the match, one unconscious on a stretcher.

So The Times posts its first and probably only story about the 2011 Eagles as: 67-5 Loss Shows U.S. Rugby It Has a Lot to Learn, leaving out all these key details.

In my prior post, I noted that the Eagles scrumhalf Mike Petri was a teacher at Xavier High in New York City, on leave to play "Triple AAA" pro rugby in England and Wales, and sure to return to teaching in NYC not too long from now. As it turned out, Petri had the winning score against Russia. <a href="http://www.rugbyworldcup.com/rugbytracker/match=10931/video.html

Worth watching</a>. (@1.50)

Whenever The Times covers anything I know something about they always get it wrong. The exception is some of their Business reporters, Morgenstern, Story, etc., who are actually quite good.  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Fri Sep 23, 06:38:00 PM:

Fixed link

Worth watching. (@1.50)  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Sat Sep 24, 11:39:00 AM:

"Regarding your latest strawman comment"

Love it. Wicker Man was a strawman argument. You got me.  

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