Well it's happening again, this time in Onalaska, Wisconsin. City officials are attempting to stop a prayer meeting in a private home, contending that it violates the city's zoning code. In the past we have talked about similar rulings in South Carolina and Rolling Hills, California. And a case in Denver, Colorado which would have limited the number of prayer meetings a couple could have in their home was settled out-of-court.
The Wisconsin case involves the home of Richard and Audrey Gilmore. The city of Onalaska says the Gilmores must apply for a conditional use permit in order to hold a gathering in their home that is of a non-commercial nature. By the way, the city allows other private meetings in residential homes such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or Amway meetings. The Gilmores appear to be targeted because their meetings are religious.
Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel contends that the Gilmores are being targeted selectively. He believes that the First Amendment guarantees them the right to meet in their home with other individuals for prayer and Bible study. His letter to the city calls for a response from them. If no response is forthcoming, Liberty Counsel may file a federal lawsuit.
As we enter into the 21st century, I am convinced that some of the biggest church/state battles will take place at the local level due to zoning laws. Sure, there will still be an occasional national battle over school prayer and religious liberty. But the number of local zoning cases will no doubt increase as cities attempt to extend their jurisdiction over home Bible studies, home school programs, church activities, and Christian schools located in churches. Many of the battles have already taken place, and I predict that many more will take place in the next few years.
I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.