‘O-HI-NO’ for church opening to homeless in Ohio legal tangle

By Marie E. Matyjaszek

Treating others as he would like to be treated has caused legal problems for Chris Avell, the pastor of Dad’s Place Christian Church in the small town of Bryan, Ohio.

Dad’s Place is located next to a homeless shelter and welcomed those who needed shelter into the church around the clock. Instead of being met with praise for his good actions, Avell was hit with 18 criminal charges for violation of city ordinances because the church lacked appropriate kitchen and laundry facilities, and proper ventilation and exits. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Not willing to turn the other cheek, Avell filed a federal lawsuit against the city and its officials, as well as Bryan’s mayor, Carrie Schlade. The plaintiff alleges that the city is infringing on its constitutional right to religious freedom by harassing the church and filing charges. Avell believes the city’s behavior is a “not in my backyard” issue, and that it blames the church for tarnishing the area.

Implying that the homeless are wolves in sheep’s clothing, the city claims that there’s been an uptick in police activity and concerns relative to criminal behavior occurring at the church, making it necessary to enforce its ordinances.  Prior to charging Avell, the zoning administrator gave the church 10 days to exile those taking shelter.

The church claims that various city police officers, hospital employees, and shelter staff sent individuals to Dad’s Place for refuge. Two volunteers remain at the church to handle any issues that arise, and individuals are free to leave at any time.

The day of reckoning is March 4, when the court will hear the request for an injunction against the city; in the meantime, the status quo remains in effect. The outcome of this case will determine if we really are our brother’s keeper.

(The author is a Judicial Attorney at the Washtenaw County Trial Court; however, the views expressed in this column are her own.  She can be reached by e-mailing her at matyjasz@hotmail.com.)

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