Churches in Lake Worth, Florida have been ordered to obtain business licenses continue operating.
According to Fox News, city officials went so far as to send an undercover code enforcement officer to a congregation that meets in a coffee house to report back on what occurred at the weekly service.
Lake Worth’s Common Ground Church owns the coffee house and had been using the space for worship services for three months. When Common Ground pastor Mike Olive heard that city commissioner Andy Amoroso believed the church was anti-gay, the pastor reached out to Amoroso.
Olive assured Amoroso that the church’s message is, “Love God, Love People.”
“Our message to the gay community is the same as it is to the straight community,” Olive told Todd Starnes.
After the encounter with Amoroso, an undercover code enforcement officer attended a service on Feb. 8.
The code enforcement officer’s report read in part, “I walked back to the Coffee Bar and was able to visualize, in my opinion what appeared to be a ministry in progress.”
He saw “people holding what appeared to be Bibles or religious books as one had a cross on it” and “what appeared to be a ministry in progress.”
The officer also captured a video of the proceedings on a hidden camera.
The next Sunday, a city employee told Common Ground that it had to vacate the building within a week because they were operating a church in a business rental property without a license.
According to community sustainability director William Waters, the city was responding to a complaint.
“We had a complaint that a gathering of people was taking place there in the form of a church,” he said. “We investigated that and determined that, yes, there were people gathered there.”
All churches in the city have now been served with orders to obtain business licenses, a demand that Liberty Counsel attorney Mat Staver says violates the First Amendment, as well as a variety of other laws.
Still, Waters warns that churches that do not comply with the regulations risk being shut down.
First Presbyterian Church pastor Joan Abell said, “We’ve been there 99 years and we’ve never had to have a license. Where do you all of a sudden say the church has to have a license to gather and pray?”
Publication date: March 6, 2015