Church Fights City Hall for the Homeless

     ST. LOUIS (CN) – An evangelical church that helps the homeless claims in Federal Court that St. Louis condemned its property without due process, to chill members’ constitutional rights.
     The New Life Evangelistic Center sued St. Louis and its Public Safety Director Edward Roth, seeking declaratory judgment, an injunctions, costs and punitive damages.
     Pastor Larry Rice claims St. Louis police arrested him and parishioners on May 16 and charged them with occupying a condemned building.
     New Life bought the 2-acre property to use it as a homeless camp and worship area after the city tore down several homeless tent cities along the Mississippi riverfront.
     The complaint states: “Defendants did not have a proper emergency to deny New Life the right to a hearing on the condemnation of the property because: a. The condemnation was not necessary in order to secure an important governmental or general public interest. Because there was no immediate or imminent danger to the public health, safety or welfare, the premises had not been occupied for more than five hours, there were restroom facilities available, no open fires or food source were on the property and the only structures on the property were tents that required no permit under the Code; b. There was no need for very prompt action, only fifteen people were present, no one person had been on the property more than five hours that day, and prior to the arrival there had been no other structures or occupancy of the property; c. The City did not keep strict control over its monopoly of legitimate force because the person initiating the seizure improperly determined that it was necessary and justified in the particular instance, as no permits are required by the city code for tents under one thousand (1,000) square feet.”
     The church claims the emergency condemnation denied it due process and violated the First Amendment.
     “Defendants’ action by placing an emergency condemnation order on the Vandeventer property placed a substantial burden on New Life’s religious beliefs of ministering to the homeless and conducting worship services on this location,” the complaint states. “Defendants action was without a rational basis.”
     New Life is represented by Daniel Boyle of Florissant.

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