A south Florida church has received notice from local officials that it must obtain a business license or shut down, even though federal and local laws exempt churches from obtaining such licenses.
“That’s a violation of the First Amendment, but number two, it’s a violation of their own code,” Liberty Counsel chairman and founder Mat Staver said, “because churches [in Lake Worth, Fla.] are not required to get business licenses.”
Common Ground Church was told by Lake Worth city officials that it would have to cease its activities and pay up to $500 per day in fines if it did not obtain a business license by March 2, Staver told Baptist Press. Since that time, the city has opted not to enforce its demand, saying instead that the church, which meets in a coffee bar owned by the pastor, must obtain only a “use license” that regulates the number of people permitted to gather.
The city still claims Common Ground technically needs a business license, Staver said. He noted the Liberty Counsel will file a lawsuit if Lake Worth tries once again to enforce its policy. But even the use license requirement represents inequitable treatment of the Florida Baptist Convention church plant, he said.
“If you’re running a coffee bar, there’s no limit on the number of people in Lake Worth,” Staver said. “If you’re watching Monday Night Football in the coffee bar, there’s no limit. But if someone stands up, reads the Bible and prays, now the city of Lake Worth wants to put a limit on the number of people that can participate in worship. That’s not only unconstitutional, but it violates their local code.”
Pastor Mike Olive called the city’s treatment of the congregation “a war on Jesus.”
“Politicians and lawyers can frame it a different way, but I’m a preacher,” Olive said. “I really believe this is about Jesus and the message of light.”
The church’s trouble began following a December 2014 conversation between Olive and openly gay city commissioner Andy Amoroso in which Amoroso said, “You better not have a church down there,” according to a letter from Liberty Counsel to Lake Worth City Manager Michael Bornstein.
Amoroso did not return the Florida Baptist Witness’ call requesting a comment.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press