In China, as well as other parts of the world where Christianity is suppressed, churchgoers are forced to meet in secret for their own safety. In America, we enjoy the freedom to congregate and worship God in the open, but in some municipalities, government overreach has begun to encroach on that freedom for small churches
According to CBN News, a small congregation has been banned from meeting in its place of worship by the city government. Redemption Community Church outside Baltimore, Maryland opened a coffee shop in Laurel for the purpose of serving cups of joe six days a week and presenting the Gospel on Sunday.
Ragamuffins Coffee House is specifically located in an area with lots of homeless and underprivileged people so that it can reach out to them. Faith is an integral part of the establishment.
Rev. Jeremy Tuinstra explained to the Baltimore Sun, "We're trying to represent the tremendous love of God. Community is our first product; after that we bring [handcrafted] coffee."
But then the city told them to beat it, according to Alliance Defending Freedom. The ADF, which is helping the church fight a legal battle against the city, says the Laurel government changed their zoning laws, making it illegal for the tiny congregation of Ragamuffins Coffee Shop to still use their space as a place of worship. The city told the church that it had to either stop meeting or pay a fine of $250 a day.
ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb said, "The church, obviously, a tiny congregation of 15-20 members could not afford to accrue fines like that. So they have been forced to stop meeting for worship in their own building."
But there’s a hopeful change on the horizon that could protect this church and others like it. On Wednesday, the Trump administration released a new initiative to protect the rights of Christians to meet for worship without being hampered by the government.
According to a Department of Justice press release, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) aims to preserve the “public exercise of religious belief, including where people worship together.”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions added, “President Trump is an unwavering defender of the right of free exercise, and under his leadership, the Department of Justice is standing up for the rights of all Americans. By raising awareness about our legal rights, the Place of Worship Initiative will help us bring more civil rights cases, win more cases, and prevent discrimination from happening in the first place.”
The Justice Department also launched a web page Wednesday to give churches more information about the new initiative and to make it easier for people to report attacks on churches by local governments.