Sunday, March 3, 2024

Pastor Criminally Charged Amid Efforts to Help Homeless Could Soon Be Victorious

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Charges will reportedly be dropped against an Ohio pastor who came under legal fire for housing homeless men and women in his church.

Listen to them on the latest episode of “Quick Start.”

The city of Bryan, Ohio, has moved to ax criminal charges against Chris Avell, pastor of Dad’s Place, after he was accused of violating city zoning rules, Statehouse News Bureau reported.

The outlet noted Bryan officials reserve the right to refile charges as detailed in a motion to dismiss, though it’s unclear if a judge has yet granted the legal motion. News of the potential dismissal comes after Avell and his church filed a federal lawsuit against the city.

As CBN News previously reported, the case against Avell originated late last year, with the pastor refusing to back down from officials’ demands.

“[Pastor Chris Avell’s] facing 18 criminal charges for violating the city’s zoning laws,” a news release from First Liberty, the firm representing Avell, read. “The city is going after him, because, earlier this year, Pastor Chris opened the church 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He’s seeking to serve homeless people.”

The statement continued, “In November 2023, the city sent a letter ordering the church to stop allowing overnight guests or face criminal prosecution. Then, on New Year’s Eve, police showed up at the church. They handed the pastor a packet of multiple charges and violations.”

Some of those alleged violations are detailed here. A city press release said the police reportedly received calls starting in May 2023 about “inappropriate activity at Dad’s Place,” with the statement noting “some of the calls were for criminal mischief, trespassing, overdose, larceny, harassment, disturbing the peace and sexual assault.”

Avell told CBN News why his church decided last year to open its doors around the clock — a decision that came as homelessness in Bryan has reportedly increased in recent years.

“Through some things God had done and what we were seeing, we decided that … it was time to do it so that people can come in day or night and find true rest,” he said. “[And] come in and pray at any time of day.”

Watch Avell tell the story:

Avell said, prior to the legal dispute, the church had been receiving calls from police in the middle of the night to ask if the house of worship would take in people facing domestic disputes and other issues.

This is one of the reasons Dad’s Place decided to expand its operations. However, authorities began taking issue with purported zoning violations this fall, with the Bryan City Zoning Commission reportedly expressing concern just months after that decision.

Since the church doesn’t have bedrooms, the zoning commission said the house of worship could no longer house the homeless. Avell said, though, that had had tried to work with the city to remedy any concerns.

First Liberty attorney Ryan Gardner previously told CBN News the 18 criminal charges waged against Avell — who has reportedly continued to keep the church open and defy authorities — are “highly unusual.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “I’ve seen cities come after churches in the civil context when it comes to zoning issues, but to try to hold a pastor criminally liable and even put him in jail for simply caring for the homeless.”

CBN News will continue to cover the story as it unfolds, though it appears those charges could soon be vanquished.

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