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The Father’s House, a homeless ministry of Living Water Full Gospel Church in Westmoreland, Tennessee, informed officials with the city of Westmoreland in a letter issued through attorneys that they believe the government is purportedly violating both state and federal laws by precluding the ministry from living out its mission and providing housing.
Ryan Gardner, an attorney with First Liberty, a religious liberty law firm representing the ministry alongside Anderson & Reynolds PLC, told CBN’s Faithwire The Father’s House ministry is run by a husband and wife who are former drug addicts and who “escaped that drug addiction and now they feel called to … minister to other men who are seeking to escape the trappings of drug addiction.”
Gardner said the couple, whose facility is part of Living Water Full Gospel Church, reached out to the city last year about permits and were reportedly told nothing further was needed.
“[They] went on to get approval from the Tennessee Department of Corrections to be transitional housing for the very type of men that they’re targeting to help,” he said. “And after all of this happened, the city suddenly changed its tune and said that they needed to install sprinklers and a firewall in the facility at a cost [of] about $85,000, which would just be crippling to them.”
Gardner said the city has expressed worries over fire safety inside the building, though he believes officials are “misapplying [their] own code,” and he pondered whether there might be religious hostility toward the ministry or the “types of people that they’re trying to house.”
The attorney said a cease-an-desist letter was sent from Westmoreland to the ministry on Aug. 11, 2022, ordering the group to halt operations until these government requirements are met.
As a result, The Father’s House, at the moment, cannot live out its mission, with attorneys demanding the Westmoreland cease and desist letter be rescinded by Jan. 30.
“It has crippled their ministry, where they’re not able to operate it,” Gardner said. “They’re not able to help people who are on the streets right now and who are in desperate need of help and have nowhere else to go.”
The attorney said First Liberty hopes to see Westmoreland officials reverse course and work with the ministry to ensure it can help and house people in desperate need.
“We’re hoping that we can work with the city and help them to see the error of their ways,” Gardner said. “And help them to understand the value that The Father’s House will bring to their community and helping their citizens.”
If Westmoreland officials ignore the letter or don’t work with First Liberty to correct these perceived wrongs, Gardner said the ministry will be forced to take action.
“If we cannot convince the city to do the right thing, then … our clients will have to take the next steps to assert their legal rights,” he said. “They are protected by both state and federal law. Tennessee has a special statute that protects religious practices, and says that the government cannot burden those practices unless it has a really, really good reason for doing so and … is accomplishing that goal through the least burdensome means possible.”
Gardner doesn’t believe the “crippling” fees The Father’s House would incur qualify under this statute.
A message left for the Westmoreland mayor went unanswered, but the story will be updated with a response from officials should Faithwire receive one.
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