Court ruling: City can ban church from downtown (while entertainment establishments continue operating)

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SALINAS, CA – Many churches across the country have a similar history:  they start in a small rented facility, building up both funds and a congregation, and in answer to many, many prayers, are able to buy a building to accommodate the increasing needs and numbers of their flocks.
 
Such was the case for New Harvest Christian Fellowship, an evangelical church in Salinas, California.
 
According to the Pacific Justice Institute, a non-profit legal defense organization, New Harvest has been housed in a rental property along Main Street in Salinas for over 25 years, and the church found that it was outgrowing the space.  The vibrancy and popularity of the church is exhibited by the number of weekly activities and ministries as detailed here:
 
“New Harvest’s weekly schedule of activities includes a Sunday morning worship service (including a worship band) and programs for children and teens/tweens; a Tuesday evening worship service, “Fun Club” for children ages 3-4, and boys’ ministries (which alternate weekly between two different age groups); a Thursday evening worship band rehearsal; a Friday evening prayer meeting; and a women’s Bible study on some Saturday mornings.” 
 
The church even had to curtail or move some ministries for lack of room.
 
When a former Beverly Fabrics building across the street came up for sale, the church purchased the building in 2018.  However, now the city of Salinas, bolstered by a federal court ruling, is forcing the church to sell the property.
 
When the church learned that the city of Salinas disallowed use of the first floor of the building for anything but retail space, and required worship to be held on the second floor, leaders reached out to the Pacific Justice Institute to represent them. 
 
Noting that “Just a few feet away the city permitted theaters and live entertainment venues to operate without similar restrictions,” the PJI invoked the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons act (RLUIPA).  The RLUIPA is designed to protect religious institutions from discrimination in zoning laws.
 
In 2011, the PJI won a similar zoning case in San Leandro, CA after appealing to the Ninth Circuit, which reversed a lower court decision disallowing Faith Fellowship Foursquare Church from using church property for worship services, favoring “tax-producing entities like entertainment venues.” 
 
The city paid Faith Fellowship a settlement of $2.3 million.
 
When the city was unmoved by the PJI’s actions regarding Salinas, the PJI filed suit on behalf of New Harvest in the US District Court for the Northern District of California.  On May 29, according to PJI, a “surprising” verdict was issued, as US Magistrate Judge Susan Van Keulen ruled in favor of the city of Salinas.
 
The ruling states that the city has declared the area occupied by the church as one in which assembling for religious purposes on the ground floor is prohibited, because the area is meant “to stimulate commercial activity within the City’s downtown, which had been in a state of decline, and to establish a pedestrian-friendly, active and vibrant Main Street.”
 
Furthermore, the ruling notes that it is incumbent upon the church to prove that the city’s restrictions “imposed a substantial burden on the religious exercise of New Harvest,” and that New Harvest did not prove such a claim.
 
With regards to nearby operation of local theaters, the ruling stated, 
 
“unlike New Harvest, [the theatres] offer numerous activities throughout the week that would reasonably be expected to attract the general public, such as first run films, weddings, concerts, comedy shows, and other events.
 
By contrast, New Harvest offers no evidence that its activities actually draw any non-members, and no evidence that its activities have a positive impact on commercial activity or vibrancy within the Main Street restricted area.”
 
It is not just theaters and other entertainment venues that seem to find favor over the operation of a church.  According to the PJI website,  “the city’s insistence that it must have only fun, tourist-friendly, and tax-generating entities downtown was undermined by its allowance of nursing homes and post offices. The court waved off this discrepancy.”
 
The next action of the Pacific Justice institute on behalf of New Harvest has been to appeal to the Ninth Circuit.  Brad Dacus, the president of PJI, states that PJI is “optimistic that a different result will be reached upon review by a higher court.”
 

Mosaic of Jesus and Mary vandalized, defaced with letters BLM after calls for depictions of “white” Jesus be torn down

Breda, Netherlands – It certainly didn’t take long for now religious depictions to see the vandalism that has been sweeping across memorials and statues throughout the world since the protests started ringing off in late-May.

In the city of Breda, a 1954 mosaic that depicts the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus was covered in spray paint, with the letters “BLM” hosted on the memorial.

Ironically, the memorial that was defaced was meant to commemorate when Polish soldiers helped liberate a Dutch city from the clutches of the Nazis during World War 2. But apparently historical relevancy isn’t that important to vandals with a can of spray paint.

Breda’s mayor, Paul Depla, noted that the vandalism of the historic representation of Our Lady of Częstochowa was “particularly sad for the Polish community, for which the monument is of great value.”

Even organizers of some of the recent protests within Breda admonished the act of vandalism shown toward the historic mosaic. Patrick van Lunteren said the following about how such acts distort the intended message of protesters:

“This hurts the Polish community and that is not the intention [of the demonstration]. People are now open to dialogue, but with these kinds of actions you lose sympathy.”

Polish-born Conservative MP and Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Poland Daniel Kawczynski said that the act was not only disrespectful toward the Polish soldiers who gave their lives to liberate the city from the Nazis, but it’s an insult to persons of faith as well:

“So many Polish soldiers died liberating Holland from the evils of Nazi occupation. The Madonna being vandalized adds to the shame for anyone like me who is a Christian, this is deeply hurtful.”

Frans Ruczynski, who was once a chairman of the General Maczek Museum, noted that the Polish population happen to be very religious in general, adding further insult to the desecration:

“Polish people are very religious. Every Sunday they go to church, with hundreds in Breda. Why would you want to hurt them? We don’t know if it comes from the left or right corner. But when it comes to Black Lives Matter, I don’t understand it. The Black Madonna has nothing to do with oppression at all.”

Coincidentally, the vandalism comes right around the same time a Black Lives Matter activist said that various statues and depictions of Jesus and the Virgin Mary should be torn down on Twitter – who has a following of over 1 million people.

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Murdered officer's grave desecrated before headstone even placed

Apparently, the Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King thinks that any statues or general depictions that showcase Jesus Christ with European features should be torn down.

This isn’t satire, he literally thinks that various depictions of Jesus Christ are a form of white supremacy.

In a post to Twitter, Shaun King stated the following:

“Yes, I think the statues of the white European they claim is Jesus should also come down. They are a form of white supremacy. Always have been. In the Bible, when the family of Jesus wanted to hide, and blend in, guess where they went? EGYPT! Not Denmark.”

Shaun King, who once worked as a pastor, then followed up his call to forcibly remove depictions of Christ with European features with yet another clarification:

“Yes. All murals and stained glass windows of white Jesus, and his European mother, and their white friends should also come down. They are a gross form white supremacy. Created as tools of oppression. Racist propaganda. They should all come down.”

For someone who was a pastor, he sure sullied the reason as to why Jesus Christ was taken to Egypt. As someone who is rather well versed in scripture, it had zero to do with trying to “blend in”.

What’s commonly known as the “Escape/Flight to Egypt” within the Gospel of Matthew, an angel actually spoke to Joseph in his dreams to forewarn that King Herod would seek to kill the baby Jesus. So, the angel advised Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt since Herod had no jurisdiction there.

Now aside from theological scripture, it seems as though Shaun King is attempting to rally up the populace of folks that have been toppling statues and monuments lately.  

That is a huge issue, needless to say, as he could be inciting not only riotous behavior, but also blatantly requesting specified acts of vandalism. If we’re being intellectually honest, there’s likely not a single church that is going to desecrate any depiction of Jesus.

Which can only lead to one likely conclusion – he wants vandals to enact it.

Now, Shaun King is complaining that he’s received death threats because of his call to tear down statues of Jesus Christ:

“Received about 20 death threats in the past 12 hours since I said that statues of white European Jesus are a tool of oppression for white supremacy and should be taken down. It pretty much proves my point. Your religion is actually whiteness with a Christian patina.”

First of all, I’d like to say “welcome to the club” when it pertains to death threats – I get them as well for simply being conservative and Christian.

While death threats are something that this author would never condone, I would also never create a call to action regarding engaging in vandalism.

While one could speculate that he wasn’t specifically telling miscreants to do the proverbial deed – it’s painfully obvious that his followers would be of the ilk to digest it as such.

One commenter on Twitter perfectly encapsulated why people are coming after Shaun King’s demonstrably tone-deaf call online:

“Translation- ‘I just said some really stupid unnecessary stuff about attacking one of the most protected institutions in the United States and I just don’t know why I’m being attacked for it.  I’m also not helping anything.’”

The fact of the matter is that if you recite a radical call to action, do not be surprised when you get an amalgamation of radical responses. A person cannot have their cake and it eat too, especially when the ingredients of said confection involve radicalism.

Since Shaun King was once a pastor, he should be well versed to know the scripture within Galatians Chapter 6, Verse 7:

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

Sounds like Shaun King managed to reap what he sowed.

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