In The Public Arena

Ministers Threatened with Jail Time

Craig James

At Issue: Discrimination Against Religious Ministry on Public Property 
Case Status: Closed – Liberty Institute Victory! 

The Big Picture

Isaiah 61 Ministries had been serving the homeless, the poor and elderly in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for more than five years. Suddenly, heading into the 2013 holiday season, local officials prohibited the ministers and volunteers of Isaiah 61 from serving those most in need.

Why This Case Matters

Increasingly, city and county governments are trying to prohibit faith-based groups from exercising their First Amendment rights, by misapplying the law, and enacting discriminatory “zoning ordinances” and permit procedures. The resolution of this case in favor of the ministry shows that these attacks can be defeated.

The Facts

  • 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 ministry volunteers provide meals, toiletries, clothing and other forms of assistance to the homeless, poor and elderly in Harrisburg, Penn.
  • Suddenly, heading into the 2013 Thanksgiving holiday, government officials for Dauphin County, Penn., 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 continued to serve.
  • Liberty Institute stepped in to help and, with 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.
  • In the demand letter, Liberty Institute noted that the Dauphin County officials’ actions violated the First Amendment, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act.
  • Just days before Christmas 2013, Liberty Institute was able to receive assurances that Isaiah 61 could serve Christmas dinner to the less fortunate – and on public property too! That was extended to New Years Day and, eventually, made permanent, permitting the ministry to continue its efforts on public property.

What Can You Do?

The good people at Isaiah 61 ministries made the bold decision to stand up for their Frist Amendment rights. This is the most important step. The law is on our side, we just need people to be brave enough to fight back.

Liberty Institute stood with Isaiah 61, and will continue to stand with ministries across the country to ensure that they can continue to serve those in need. Please, consider a gift today to help us in this effort. As we have seen time and time again, when we have the financial resources – and when people are brave enough to stand up for their rights – we WIN!


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