Four Years Later, Judge Rules That Ministries' Case Over Homeless Food Distribution is a Go

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Four long years ago we wrote about two local ministries -- Big Hart Ministries and the Rip Parker Memorial Homeless Ministry-- that filed suit against the city of Dallas in federal court over an ordinance that they say kept them from serving food to the homeless and violated their religious freedoms. For the longest time, not much happened in that litigation. For the most part, I was told this afternoon, that was because the court wanted to see what happened while the city revised its food-distribution ordinances, in large part a reaction to the growing food-truck movement. (Which, so happens, is still taking place, with the council deferring Monday that vote on further loosening restrictions.)

But the Houston Chronicle, via Religious Clause, provides the heads-up: Last week, U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis denied the city's motion for summary judgment and ruled that the lawsuit can proceed. Because, see, for all the changes to City Code in recent months, ordinances still demand that those serving food give the city the heads-up as to when and where they'll be doing the dishing out. And as far as Big Hart (also known as Big Heart) and Rip Parker are concerned, that's a violation of "their ability to practice their religious beliefs that call for spontaneous sharing of food and for seeking out the hungry in hard to reach locations," per Religious Clause's concise summation of the case.

This is how Solis sums it up in his ruling signed November 4:
The City contends that while Plaintiffs' religious beliefs may compel them to share food with the homeless, Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that their religious beliefs compel them to share food with the homeless in a manner that violates the Ordinance. The City contends in a conclusory fashion that the Ordinance's location restrictions and the Ordinance's requirements for sanitary facilities and safe food handling "do not interfere with or burden their sharing meals with homeless people . . ." The City goes on to argue that even if the Ordinance does impose a burden, that burden is not substantial because Plaintiffs have "always substantially complied with the food safety requirements of the Ordinance."

Plaintiffs respond that the location requirement substantially burdens their religious expression because it severely restricts their ability to share food in accordance with their religious beliefs. Plaintiffs' food sharing practices require them to seek out homeless people in the communities' streets and feed them. According to the testimony of Mr. Don Hart and Mr. William Edwards, founder/pastor with Big Hart Ministries Association and founder/director/coordinator of Rip Parker, respectively, their religious calling requires them and their organizations to go out into the streets to feed and minister to the homeless.
Now, it would appear, the case will finally head to trial.
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11 comments
primi_timpano
primi_timpano

Robert, am I reading this right: the food distributors are following city regs for safe food handling and preparation, but the city wants the distributors to tell the city in advance where to give the food away?  Would the city ever say no?  Why does the city care?

The city is defending this scheduling rule in federal court and challenging the feeding of homeless people?

Is an outside law firm handling the litigation?

Why is the city making an issue of this?

If I give a bum in front of the 7-11 a tuna sandwich (from said 7-11) do I have to call the city first to schedule the handoff to said bum?

This is incredibly f$cking stupid.

Van
Van

primi_timpano, Sir if you were to go into a 7-11, or McDonald's in Downtown Dallas and a Police Officer saw you exit either said establishment, and also watched you walk up and said food to a homeless. The Police Officer, PER THIS ORIDIANCE THAT WAS SET -FORTH IN 2007, CAN EITHER ISSUE YOU A WRITTEN CITATION UP TO $2,000.00 OR A VERBAL WARNING. YES IT IS F$CKING STUPID!!!

AND IN REPLY TO THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE IGNORANT, JUST REMEMBER IN TODAYS ECONOMY, IF YOU WERE TO LOSE YOUR JOB, DO YOU CURRENTLY HAVE A MINIMUM OF 8 TO 10 MONTHS OF WHAT EVER YOUR CURRRENT SALARY IS SO THAT YOU AND OR YOUR FAMILY CAN SURVIVE????

THAT IS ALL IT TAKES PEOPLE!!! OPEN YOUR EYES, OPEN YOUR EARS, SHUT YOUR MOUTHS AND YOU JUST MIGHT LEARN SOMETHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

james
james

don't critisise big brother 'cause if you do you'll lose your job your mind and all the friends you knew.

Givemeabreak
Givemeabreak

There are many things these groups can do to help the hungry and homeless. Their insistance that their religion requires them to do things that are dangerous to the people they are trying to help is the problem. They can help people afford and find housing or jobs, drive them to treatment centers or take them to a location where food is served under proper conditions. Wasting money on attorneys and forcing the city to do the same takes funds away from the very people they are trying to help.

DallasWatcher
DallasWatcher

Almost always these do-gooders live in the suburbs.   They treat the street bums like feral cats who just need to be fed and watered.  

Why don't they use their trucks to haul the street bums back to their churches or open up feeding stations near the do-gooders' homes?

No city can survive in the anarchy that the do-gooders create by rewarding irresponsible humans.  The do-gooders are the same morons who thought the asylums all should be closed and the inmates put in group homes to terrorize entire neighborhoods.

Joseph A. Viore
Joseph A. Viore

Give me a break. Under this reasoning you could do anything in the name of religion without breaking even a reasonable law. The real question is how much money are these religious fools costing taxpayers so that they can generate publicity and donations instead of following reasonable food handling practices. Perhaps if they give someone food poisoning they can argue it is the Lord's will. While they may get their day in court, at taxpayer expense, I doubt if they will win. The time and effort they spend could be better used to help people who really need it. 

Van
Van

Mr. Viore, Sir, May I  Retort you comments with FACT AND NOT FICTION! 1.) Regarding THESE RELIGIOUS FOOLS COMMENT, SIR I AM NOT A RELIGIOUS FOOL, LAST TIME I LOOKED ON MY OFFICE WALL MY UNDERGRAD AND GRADUATE DEGREES ARE HANGING THEIR. 2.) Regarding COSTING TAXPAYERS MONEY, BIGHEART MINISTRIES HAS NEVER COST TAXPAYERS A DIME IN TAX MONEY, NOR HAS THIS MINISTRY EVER TURNED A PROFIT!!!! IT IS A NON-FOR-PROFIT ORGANIZATION. BIGHEART MINISTRIES HAS BEEN OPERATING FOR THE PAST 32 YEARS, AND TODAY WE WERE BLESSED ENOUGH TO SERVE BETWEEN 250 AND 300 WELL DESERVING PEOPLE WITH INTEGRITY AND THEY WERE NOT RELIGIOUS FOOLS EITHER,  SIR.3.) IN IT'S 32 YEARS BIGHEART MINISTRIES HAS NEVER SERVED ILL PREPARED FOOD TO ANYONE THAT HAS ATTENDED A BIGHEART EVENT. DON HART HAS NEVER AND WILL NEVER PREPARE NOW SERVE ANY FOOD THAT HE WOULD NOT SERVE IN HIS OUR HOME AND TO HIS OWN FAMILY.  4.) LASTLY, MR. VIORE, IF YOU SIR WOULD TAKE THE TIME AND READ THE CITY ORIDIANCE THE WAY IT WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2007, UNDER MAYOR MILLLER'S ADMINISTRATION, YOU WOULD SEE THAT IF BIGHEART MINISTRIES WANTS TO FEED AT ONE OF THE APPROVED SITES ON THE CITY OF DALLAS"S LIST THAT'S FINE, BUT, IF YOU ATTEMPT TO SHARE THE WORD OF JESUS OR PRAY FOR AN INDIVIUAL OR THE ENTIRE GROUP YOU WILL BE TOLD TO LEAVE, AND NOT ALLOWED BACK!!!!

Mr. Viore, I don't know where or when you STUDIED THE CONSITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, BUT SIR, THE FIRST ADMENDMENT PLAINLY STATES THAT WE AS CITIZENS ARE GUARENTEED THE RIGHTS OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH, PEACHABLE ASSEMBLY, AND WAIT FOR IT, DON'T READ A HEAD, THE FREEMDOM OF RELIGION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  IF YOU DONT UNDERSTAND THE LAW, STATE LAW SUPERSEEDS CITY LAW AND FEDERAL LAW SUSPERSEEDS NOT ONLY STATE, BUT LOCAL AS WELL... IF YOU HAVE ANYMORE THOUGHTS OR QUESTIONS PLEASE CONTACT ME AND YOU MAY HAVE A TOUR OF THE 9,800 SQUARE FOOT BUILDING WHERE BIGHEART MINISTRIES CALL HOME, AS WELL AS RECEIVE AND EDUCATION.

james
james

so if they find hungry people in the street, they should figure that they don't really need food?  i like your thinkin'. they should throw them worthless assholes under the jail fer bein' shitlivered enough to try to hunt down hungry people and feed'em. fuck less fortunate people. and fuck people who try to help them. go big brother.

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

I swear, no one at City Hall seems to understand the 1st Amendment, and we consistently get poor legal service.

Bob
Bob

Edit, Robert, edit.  Right next to your mention of "Big Hart Ministries" is a picture of a tent with "BIGHEART MINISTRIES" emblazoned thereon.

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