A Colorado pastor says that allowing traveling ministers to park their trailers in his church parking lot and connect to public services has been part of his congregation’s “ministry of hospitality” for more than 30 years.
But the city of Pueblo, Colorado, says the Rev. Paul Elder and the Christian Growth Center church are violating a city ordinance that requires fines of up to $1,000 a day and a year in prison for each day the traveling ministers are there.
The city says its zoning regulations dictate that a recreational vehicle can only be parked in the city’s pay parking lots. Elder says the church has provided the hospitality service for more than 30 years and that the city allowed the water, electricity and sewer connections that the church installed at its current location in 2011.
“They knew we had trailer connections there,” Elder said in an interview. “And for 10 years, we regularly parked trailers there without anyone in town going out and trying to make a stop. So it was a surprise when we were named last year,” he added.
The case is now in federal court in Denver, and Andrew Nussbaum, the church’s attorney, is hoping for a settlement before the trial begins.
Mr. Nussbaum claims that the Federal Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act of 2000 protects the church from zoning regulations.
At issue is the church’s argument that the parking ban “imposes a substantial burden” on the church’s right to religious freedom, as offering hospitality is part of how the congregation practices its faith.
Mr. Nussbaum told The Washington Times that the city’s position is intriguing.
“The only thing the city has told us in writing publicly at any time during the negotiations is that they have a compelling interest in public health and safety to require all trailer use to take place in city-sanctioned trailer parks,” he said. he.
“The problem with that statement is that RV hospitality ministry has been going on for literally 30 years without incident. So you would think that if it was a serious danger to public health and safety, they would have noticed a breach sometime in the last three decades,” he added.
A spokeswoman for the city of Pueblo said it does not comment on pending litigation.
Elder said allowing traveling preachers and their trailers to park at the church “is a very important part of our ministry.”
He added, “It is a total ministry of our church to serve these families for a short period of time, and it is our intention that we earn the privilege and right to minister without [the city] defining how we can minister.”