MISSION VIEJO (CBS) — An Orange County couple has been ordered to stop holding a Bible study in their home on the grounds that the meeting violates a city ordinance as a “church” and not as a private gathering.
Homeowners Chuck and Stephanie Fromm, of San Juan Capistrano, were fined $300 earlier this month for holding what city officials called “a regular gathering of more than three people”.
That type of meeting would require a conditional use permit as defined by the city, according to Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), the couple’s legal representation.
The Fromms also reportedly face subsequent fines of $500 per meeting for any further “religious gatherings” in their home, according to PJI.
“We’re just gathering and enjoying each other’s company and fellowship. And we enjoy studying God’s word.” Stephanie Fromm told CBS2.
After city officials rejected the Fromms’ appeal, PJI, which represents other Bible study participants, will appeal the decision to the California Superior Court in Orange County.
“This is also about a city trying to get a family to pay fees – to pay fees and pay money to them – just to be able to have friends over to read the Bible,” attorney Brad Dacus of PJI told CBS2.
Neighbors have written letters to the city in support of the Fromms, whom they said have not caused any disturbances with the meetings, according to PJI.
“The Fromm case further involves regular meetings on Sunday mornings and Thursday afternoons with up to 50 people, with impacts on the residential neighborhood on street access and parking,” City Attorney Omar Sandoval said.
The city of San Juan Capistrano was founded as a mission in the late 1700s by Catholic priest Junipero Serra, who established a local chapel that remains the oldest standing building in California.
Officials with San Juan Capistrano did not respond to requests for comment.