Judge Rules City Must Let Religious Charities Feed the Hungry

Judge rules that the regulation impinged on the religious rights of two Dallas organizations

In his ruling, Judge Jorge Solis said, “The homeless feeders are religiously motivated institutions that are afforded statutory protection to practice their religions without being substantially burdened by government regulation.” The city’s Homeless Feeder ordinance was “instituted based on speculation and assumptions,” he wrote, and its defense “did not establish that any of (the city’s) interests have been harmed by Plaintiffs’ conduct.”

Six years ago, the City of Dallas passed an ordinance requiring faith-based and other charitable institutions to meet nearly a dozen requirements before feeding the homeless.

On Thursday, after a protracted legal battle, a U.S. District Judge ruled that the regulation impinged on the religious rights of two local organizations, Big Heart Ministries and Rip Parker Memorial Homeless Ministries, which had brought a lawsuit against the city.

As reported by the Dallas Morning News, the case pitted the ministries’ biblical imperative to “feed the hungry” against the city’s belief that such actions “were enabling (the homeless) to remain on the streets.”

The ordinance required the ministries to, among other things:

  • Provide portable toilets or restroom facilities for the homeless whenever feeding them.
  • Register with the city by completing its food safety training course and keep a copy of the registration on-hand whenever feeding the homeless.
  • Obtain written consent from property owners before providing food on property grounds.
  • Provide a hand washing facility or 5-gallon container with spigot, a catch bucket, soap and paper towels for preparers and servers whenever non-packaged food is served.

In his ruling, Judge Jorge Solis said, “The homeless feeders are religiously motivated institutions that are afforded statutory protection to practice their religions without being substantially burdened by government regulation.”

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