The city of Brookings, located on the Southern Oregon Coast, is being sued after the local government passed an ordinance last fall that prohibited St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church from serving more than two free meals a week to the homeless without a permit.
The church says they are obeying the teachings of Jesus Christ when they give food and medical care to those who need it. By denying them that opportunity, they claim the city is interfering with their faith.
The Right Reverend Diana Akiyama is the Bishop of the Diocese of Oregon. She says Brookings is impeding the right to religious expression.
“We are a Christian denomination, seeking to express our faith fundamentally in the form of feeding people who are hungry,” said Akiyama. “And we don’t believe city council has the right to tell us to stop taking care of people in need.”
Brookings Mayor Ron Hedenskog declined to comment on ongoing litigation.
The ordinance against serving more than two free meals a week was passed by the city council in October. It came in response to a petition that circulated in April among Brookings residents who live near St. Timothy’s. They claimed the church’s programs were creating public safety problems. The petition, which referred to the people around St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church as “vagrants” and “undesirables,” was signed by 30 people.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Timothy’s has taken on a larger role in feeding, vaccinating and sheltering the homeless community.
Walter Fonseca of the Oregon Justice Resource Center is representing St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in the lawsuit. He argues that the ordinance seems to be targeted specifically at limiting activities at the church.