PITTSBURGH - This morning U.S. District Chief Judge Donetta Ambrose signed an order allowing the First Apostles' Doctrine Church to resume housing homeless people as part of its ministry. The Borough of Brookville and the church reached an agreement late yesterday, averting an emergency court hearing scheduled for this afternoon.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed the lawsuit suit Monday on behalf of Reverend Wisor, the church, and the "Just for Jesus Challenge Homeless Outreach," the church's ministry that Wisor founded in 2004 to help homeless people in this rural area, about 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, by providing them shelter and bringing Jesus Christ into their lives. In August the borough effectively shut down the ministry by citing the church for zoning violations and, earlier this month Borough Council voted unanimously to refuse the church's request to resume housing homeless people in the parsonage.
"We praise our savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, for once again giving us the strength to fulfill the mission before us," said Reverend Jack Wisor, the Bishop of the First Apostles' Doctrine Church. "We are thankful that we can continue serving the poor and less fortunate in the surrounding communities and fulfilling this ever-growing need."
Today's agreement allows the Brookville church to resume immediately housing up to eight guests and two staff. The agreement also obliges Brookville to dismiss the zoning-code-violation charges issued in August, which were upheld by a local magistrate but that the church has appealed.
"Religious liberty means more than people coming together for a service once a week," said Witold Walczak, Legal Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and one of the church's lawyers. "It includes protection for ministries like this one, which seek to fulfill important tenets of the church's gospel."
Under the court's order, the parties will spend the next two months trying to work out details about how the church will be used and the award of damages. If a final settlement cannot be reached the case will continue on a regular schedule.
The case, which is pending in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, is Just for Jesus Challenge Homeless Outreach, et al., v. Borough of Brookville, et al., 08-cv-1584 (W.D.Pa.). The case is being handled by Walczak and J. Nicholas Ranjan, of K&L Gates, LLP.
More information about the lawsuit, including the complaint and today's agreement, can be found at: cases/just-jesus-challenge-homeless-outreach-v-borough-brookville