Appellate Ruling Affirms Florida Citizen’s Right to Host Home Prayer Meetings
By Allie Martin
(AgapePress) – A Florida county will have to revamp its land use ordinance after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the law not only too vague but also in violation of a federal statute.
Five years ago, officials in Orange County, Florida, ordered Rabbi Joseph Konikov to stop holding prayer meetings in his home, claiming that in holding these gatherings he was violating local laws. Then, in May 2002, after officials refused to negotiate a settlement, Konikov sued the County.
A district court dismissed the case, ruling that the ordinance was permissible. However, the 11th Circuit ruled that the ordinance is not permissible, stating that it violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
Rick Nelson, head of the American Liberties Institute, feels the 11th Circuit’s ruling proves that the County’s ordinance was too vague. “Obviously the rabbi and all the churches across Orange County are very, very pleased,” he says.
That is because, now, people of faith “can actually have Bible studies in their home or do any other kind of religious activity in their home without the government coming along and foreclosing on your house and throwing you in the street for doing so,” Nelson explains.
Although the district court that initially heard the case sided with the County, the American Liberties Institute spokesman says the 11th Circuit sent the case back down to the lower court, in effect telling those judges, “You made mistakes — and you need to resolve those mistakes.” Also, he points out, the lower court was told it needed to determine one question, that being “how many times per week someone can meet in their home without being in violation of the code.”
The Constitution of the United States gives Americans the right to meet in their homes for prayer or to study religious materials without the interference of the state, Nelson asserts. He says Orange County will now have to rewrite its land use ordinance.