In Texas, the city of Plano ordered a ministry for women and children in crisis to stop meeting for prayer and Bible study, saying it violates a city ordinance that disallows more than eight people to gather in a house.
Agape Resource and Assistance Center, Inc., maintains several houses as homes for women and their children—as well as children with no parents—providing them with shelter, food, and counseling. It is a Christian ministry to help and defend those in dire need.
A Plano ordinance requires that no such home can house more than eight people. Agape complies with this ordinance, maintaining several houses and ensuring that there are never more than eight people sheltered in any one home.
However, once per month, Agape gathers all the women and children in the same house for three hours. During this time they share a meal together and have a church service with a message from the Bible and time for prayer and showing mutual support.
Plano issued a cease-and-desist letter to Agape, telling the ministry that it is not permitted to gather the women and children together. The city interprets the ordinance as not allowing more than eight people in the same house, even for such a short period of time and for that sort of gathering.
The ordinance would allow recreational events with more than eight people. For example, a Plano resident could have a Super Bowl party with 20 people. But if that resident has 20 people in the house for three hours of prayer and hearing the Bible, that’s illegal.
Update, Wednesday, 4:30 p.m.
The City of Plano has rescinded its original letter to Agape, which had ordered a cease and desist of activities.
“The letter [from City of Plano] should not have been sent,” said media spokesman Steve Stoler. “We’re okay with them doing what they’re doing as long as they’re following city ordinances.”
Stoler was adamant that the City of Plano never issued a ban on Agape’s activities, even though Agape used the word “ban” to describe the notice from the city. “Everybody seemed to make it sound like there was a ban in place, and that’s just not true … the city never banned them from doing anything. What Liberty [Institute, Agape’s legal team] is saying is that the city is banning them from doing activities there. There is no ban, there was never a ban in place.”
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