On Friday, February 19th, the Christian Family Coalition, one of Florida's largest and most effective non-denominational Pro-Family, Pro-Life, Human Rights organizations, joined attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund in a federal anti-discrimination lawsuit against Miami-Dade County on behalf of two Christian groups.
The County demanded the groups purchase 2.5 acres of land just so they could meet for prayer and Bible study! Miami-Dade County officials slapped International Outreach Center (IOC) and Worldwide Agape Ministries with orders to cease and desist meeting unless they acquired the demanded acreage, even if only two or three people were in attendance.
"According to the Latin American Missions, there are approximately 1,200 churches in Miami-Dade County. If each church has at least one home bible study a week, then there are literally thousands of hard-working, tax-paying citizens being discriminated against simply for practicing their faith in their own homes!" stated Christian Family Coalition Founder and Executive Director, Anthony Verdugo.
"People can gather each week at someone's home to watch football, but they can't gather to read the Bible and pray without being forced to buy 2.5 acres of land. That strikes most people as ridiculous," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster. "It is unconstitutional for the county to bully these ministries when there is no minimum acreage requirement for other assembly-use businesses, such as pool halls, theaters, convention centers, and private clubs."
"It's incredible that in the year 2007, we must still fight for people's First Amendment right to practice their faith without interference from the government. We will stand side by side with these two plaintiffs until the County ceases and desists from practicing discrimination in violation of its own Anti-Discrimination Ordinance."
For more than 10 years, IOC has used its property as a meeting place for prayer, Bible study, discussion, and singing of religious songs. Last April 21, IOC received a county code violation notice demanding the group apply for a Certificate of Use. Officials then responded to IOC's application by demanding they purchase 2.5 acres of land or stop meeting.
Worldwide Agape Ministries, a small, home-based religious ministry that meets for prayer, Bible reading and discussion, and singing, received a cease and desist order from county zoning officials. The officials decreed that even a regular gathering of two to three people is prohibited unless the group acquires 2.5 acres of land.
A copy of the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in International Outreach Center v. Miami-Dade County is available at www.telladf.org/UserDocs/IOCComplaint.pdf.
"The arbitrary limitations placed on these ministries are a major roadblock, particularly since land in South Florida is so expensive," Oster said. "County officials cannot be permitted to discriminate against citizens simply wanting to exercise their freedom of religion."
ADF is a legal alliance, defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.