Thursday, December 5, 2013

PA County threatens ministers with arrest for serving poor

Isaiah 61 Ministries has been serving the homeless, the poor and elderly in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for more than five years. Now, heading into the holiday season, local government officials are prohibiting the ministers and volunteers of Isaiah 61 from ministering to and serving those most in need.

Liberty Institute and Independence Law Center sent a demand letter to Dauphin County Commissioners for wrongfully pushing the ministry off public property and threatening to arrest ministry workers and volunteers.

Isaiah 61 Ministries is a well-established, nonprofit Christian ministry with volunteers from various denominations “striving to show those less fortunate that they are loved and not forgotten.” Every week, for the last five years, ministry volunteers have provided meals, toiletries, clothing and other forms of assistance to the homeless, poor and elderly in Harrisburg.

Recently, government officials for Dauphin County, PA, issued a directive to Isaiah 61 and several other ministries, prohibiting them from engaging in their ministerial work, even thought the groups conduct their ministry activities on public property.

The issue escalated to the point that the commission actually threatened to arrest ministry workers and volunteers if they continue to serve.

“Serving the homeless, the poor and elderly is a central tenet of the Christian faith,” said Jeremy Dys, Liberty Institute attorney. “Those who exercise their faith by caring for the poor on the streets of Harrisburg ought to be applauded for their kindness, not threatened with jail time.”

In the demand letter, Liberty Institute notes that the Dauphin County officials’ actions violate the First Amendment, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act.

Liberty is asking that these ministries be permitted to continue their acts of Christian ministry on public property.  

Situations like this are happening more often than you may think. More than ever, city and county governments are trying to prohibit faith-based groups from exercising their First Amendment rights, through discriminatory acts, “zoning ordinances” and permit procedures.

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