Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Phoenix at odds with church that feeds needy

Speaking of faith & politics, I just saw this over the wire...
PHOENIX – On Saturday mornings, crowds of homeless gather with other needy people at picnic tables outside a church in an upscale Phoenix neighborhood, listen to sermons and settle in for sausage, pancakes and scrambled eggs.

The pastor says it's the Lord's work. Neighbors say it should be done elsewhere.

Residents say the homeless create blight and pose a danger to them, pointing to the case of a homeless felon caught with child pornography in the neighborhood. A complaint prompted city officials to order the year-old breakfast halted, saying it violated zoning laws.

Now, the dispute is in federal court in Phoenix, with the church saying the city is violating its First Amendment rights and a federal law that protects religious groups from city zoning rules.

"This is what it means to be a church," says the Rev. Dottie Escobedo-Frank of the CrossRoads United Methodist Church. "We're just trying to take care of some people who are hungry and trying to reach out to our neighborhood."

City officials say they've never disagreed that the church is doing good work, but that it's operating as a charity dining hall in violation of zoning laws. The church is on a busy street, lined with homes with well-manicured lawns.

Read the whole thing here.

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