www.mozilla.com Weather Central
Voices
Headlines

Surprise, surprise, surprise -7/31/2014, 10:12 AM

Medicaid expansion a win-win for Kansas -7/31/2014, 10:12 AM

Term limits are first step -7/31/2014, 10:12 AM

Vote for what's right -7/31/2014, 10:12 AM

The next governor -7/31/2014, 10:12 AM

Shultz is the pick -7/31/2014, 10:11 AM

Eyeing the children -7/30/2014, 9:01 AM

Speak from the heart -7/30/2014, 9:01 AM

Changing attitudes -7/30/2014, 9:01 AM

Time to replace Huelskamp -7/30/2014, 9:00 AM

Water vision -7/29/2014, 9:48 AM

No longer a supporter -7/29/2014, 9:47 AM

The power of punctuation -7/29/2014, 9:47 AM

Running for the wrong bus -7/28/2014, 9:04 AM

Old Old Mexico -- Culture and content -7/28/2014, 9:03 AM

The defining issue of economic recovery -7/27/2014, 4:53 PM

In a world of sectarian violence, what can be done? -7/27/2014, 4:53 PM

Funding DHDC -7/27/2014, 1:18 PM

Endorsement for Shultz -7/25/2014, 3:28 PM

Against the wind -7/25/2014, 4:23 PM

Do blacks need favors? -7/25/2014, 4:23 PM

Vote Huelskamp out -7/25/2014, 4:23 PM

Open meetings -7/24/2014, 8:07 AM

Leadership change needed -7/24/2014, 8:07 AM

Vote for Huelskamp -7/24/2014, 8:06 AM

Protecting unborn children -7/24/2014, 8:06 AM

Learning experience valuable -7/24/2014, 8:06 AM

False equivalence -7/23/2014, 8:07 AM

Measles' scary comeback -7/23/2014, 1:27 PM

The 'big data' deal -7/23/2014, 10:07 AM

GOP can't get out of its own way -7/23/2014, 10:07 AM

War only will add to Middle East problems -7/22/2014, 8:10 AM

Avoiding taxes -7/22/2014, 8:10 AM

Take the win in Iran -7/21/2014, 8:57 AM

The high court's high-handedness -7/21/2014, 8:57 AM

Up in arms in the Capitol -7/20/2014, 4:52 PM

Firefighters weigh in on pay raise -7/20/2014, 4:52 PM

Backpacks for Kids -7/20/2014, 4:52 PM

Our unwillingness to defend ourselves -7/18/2014, 10:51 AM

Remembering a man who championed freedom -7/18/2014, 10:51 AM

GOP split -7/17/2014, 8:38 AM

New Kansas senator -7/17/2014, 8:37 AM

Who'll build the roads? -7/17/2014, 8:37 AM

Time to retire -7/16/2014, 2:20 PM

Reagan: In or out? -7/16/2014, 2:45 PM

'Unbroken' WWII vet more than a hero -7/16/2014, 2:44 PM

Savor the fruits of your labor -7/16/2014, 2:44 PM

Erasing candidate's standards -7/15/2014, 11:36 AM

Returning to Trail Wood -7/15/2014, 10:13 AM

Leaving some in 'suspense' -7/15/2014, 10:13 AM

Strangers in a remarkable land -7/14/2014, 9:11 AM

Courageous or spineless? Our actions decide -7/14/2014, 9:11 AM

Ambition: An unlikely gift to Kansas voters -7/13/2014, 11:16 AM

Beyond the outrage -7/13/2014, 11:16 AM

Water watch -7/13/2014, 11:16 AM

Scenic outlooks -7/11/2014, 9:18 AM

China's research trumps teaching -7/11/2014, 9:17 AM

Important slow news -7/10/2014, 9:42 AM

We've got a promise to keep -7/10/2014, 9:33 AM

The white combine calls -7/9/2014, 10:02 AM

Vote for family values -7/9/2014, 10:02 AM

Politicians making a mockery of my faith -7/9/2014, 10:02 AM

Missing tribute -7/9/2014, 10:02 AM

Rural students deserve 21st Century education -7/8/2014, 9:10 AM

The education table dance -7/8/2014, 9:10 AM

A new virus -7/8/2014, 9:10 AM

Government as God -7/7/2014, 9:38 AM

EPA affecting others -7/7/2014, 9:38 AM

'Narrow' decision from the narrow-minded -7/7/2014, 9:38 AM

The tax trap -7/6/2014, 4:35 PM

Rulings produce 'First Amendment fireworks' -7/6/2014, 4:35 PM

Firefighter salaries -7/6/2014, 4:35 PM

Economic freedom -7/4/2014, 11:54 AM

Protecting our independence -7/4/2014, 11:54 AM

Dan Johnson, 1936-2014 -7/3/2014, 7:12 AM

New Iraq offensive backfires -7/3/2014, 7:11 AM

Setting things straight -7/3/2014, 7:11 AM

'Crapitalism' -7/3/2014, 7:11 AM

Feeding peace throughout the world -7/2/2014, 9:01 AM

Half way is still only half way -7/2/2014, 9:01 AM

Sherow a better choice -7/2/2014, 9:01 AM

Fireworks, part II -7/2/2014, 9:01 AM

Reality show made in Topeka -7/1/2014, 8:53 AM

The justices and their cellphones -7/1/2014, 8:53 AM

LOB defeated -7/1/2014, 8:53 AM

Tragedy explored in 'Broken Heart Land' -6/30/2014, 9:14 AM

Mexico City: The adventure continues -6/30/2014, 9:14 AM

Even our youngest Americans are citizens -6/29/2014, 12:58 PM

Ban on fireworks -6/29/2014, 12:58 PM

It's time to teach active citizenship -6/29/2014, 12:57 PM

The education establishment's success -6/27/2014, 10:39 AM

Piecework professors -6/27/2014, 10:39 AM

Marriage for all -6/27/2014, 10:39 AM

Prairie chicken madness -6/26/2014, 4:17 PM

Omission control -6/26/2014, 10:12 AM

Equal in the eyes of the law -6/26/2014, 10:12 AM

Help wanted -6/26/2014, 10:12 AM

The old red barn -6/25/2014, 9:19 AM

Beware the unimaginable -6/25/2014, 9:19 AM

Early critic of school testing was right -6/24/2014, 8:53 AM

myTown Calendar

SPOTLIGHT
[var top_story_head]

In Philly, churches fight to feed the homeless

Published on -8/26/2012, 1:58 PM

Printer-friendly version
E-Mail This Story

Church ministries have been feeding homeless people in Philadelphia's public parks for decades -- not as a charitable gesture, but as an act of faith.

But earlier this year, city officials passed an ordinance banning public feeding of groups of more than three people in any city park -- taking care, of course, to exempt city-sanctioned special events, family picnics and other gatherings the city finds more palatable.

The law targets church groups and charities that give meals to the homeless on land along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, home to major museums such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the newly opened Barnes Foundation art collection.

Why make it so hard to feed the homeless in the City of Brotherly Love?

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter's official explanation for the ban is that he wants to move feeding the homeless inside (though the city is vague about how or when this will happen). Moreover, the city argues, church feeding programs are health hazards that create a mess in the park. The mayor offered part of the plaza surrounding City Hall as a temporary alternative location.

Religious leaders dismiss the city's objections to meal distribution in public parks as bogus, pointing out that no one has gotten sick from the food and volunteers clean up the space used.

Moreover, many of the homeless who live in the park are reluctant to travel elsewhere (leaving their few possessions) -- and some are too disabled to do so.

Critics say the real reason for the ban is the proximity of the feeding programs to tourist attractions, especially the new $150 million building housing the Barnes Foundation collection that opened in May.

To stop the law from taking effect, religious groups (with support from the American Civil Liberties Union) filed suit in federal court charging that prohibiting churches from feeding the homeless in city parks violates religious freedom (Chosen 300 Ministries, Inc. v. City of Philadelphia).

The city responded by claiming that because the law "imposes no restrictions upon praying or preaching or reading the Gospel or engaging with the homeless," the ban on feeding doesn't interfere with the churches' right to practice their faith.

Last month, Judge William H. Yohn Jr. rejected the city's argument and granted a temporary injunction barring implementation of the law. In a written opinion issued two weeks ago explaining his order, the judge wrote that government had no business ascribing to some of the churches' religious activities more religious significance than others.

To support his conclusion that the park feeding ban violated the religious freedom of the ministries, Yohn relied not on the First Amendment, as might be expected, but on the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act.

That's because the U.S. Supreme Court weakened the protections of the First Amendment's free-exercise clause in 1990, declaring that government no longer had to show a compelling state interest before denying religious exemptions to generally applicable laws that substantially burden the free exercise of religion (Employment Division v. Smith).

In response to that high court ruling, some states -- including Pennsylvania -- have passed legislation restoring the "compelling interest" test.

According to Judge Yohn, Philadelphia's public feeding ban likely would fail that test because the city has not shown that government interests are strong enough to override religious freedom in this case. Moreover, the city has not provided a solid alternative for relocating the feeding programs.

Philadelphia is not the only city trying to move homeless people and those who serve them out of public parks. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, more than 50 other cities have passed anti-camping and anti-feeding ordinances.

Mayor Nutter is appealing the court injunction. But whatever happens in the courts, church leaders in Philadelphia promise to keep the meals coming -- even if it means defying the law.

After all, when it comes to helping "the least of these," they believe in obeying a higher law.

Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Washington-based Newseum. chaynes@freedomforum.org

digg delicious facebook stumbleupon google Newsvine
More News and Photos

Associated Press Videos