Gilbert Remains Committed to Religious Freedom

Town of Gilbert

For Immediate Release: Monday, March 15, 2010

ON BEHALF OF

MAYOR JOHN LEWIS
VICE MAYOR LINDA ABBOTT
COUNCILMAN DAVE CROZIER
COUNCILWOMAN JENN DANIELS
COUNCILMAN LES PRESMYK
COUNCILMAN JOHN SENTZ
COUNCILMAN STEVE URIE

Gilbert, Arizona, March 15, 2010. Approximately six weeks ago, members of the Gilbert Town Council learned that a Town zoning code intended to help neighborhoods with traffic, parking and safety concerns had been interpreted by Town staff to mean that small church groups could not meet in their own homes. The Council immediately asked Town staff to make changes to the code and not enforce the code while changes were being considered.

Unfortunately, without the Town Council’s knowledge, one church group had already been told to stop holding meetings in their home. Last week the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) filed an appeal for the Oasis of Truth Church located in Gilbert. While Town staff had anticipated presenting to the Town Council proposed zoning changes at the next Town Council meeting (scheduled for March 23), ADF’s appeal reached the media on Friday, March 12, causing concern that Town of Gilbert restricted religious freedom guaranteed in the Constitution.

Gilbert’s Mayor John Lewis said, “It is unfortunate that the Council did not know about information given to the Oasis of Truth Church. Gilbert is known as a family-oriented community and our faith groups are a vital part of our Town. We want to keep it that way.” Lewis continued, “Gilbert has the largest celebration of the Constitution in the United States. During the third week of September, we have an entire week of community activities available to remind us of the important principles of the Constitution.” Vice-Mayor Linda Abbott commented, “This is a community with patriotic citizens who study and defend the Constitution. We understand the importance of maintaining religious freedom.”

Upon learning of the appeal, the Town Council expressed their overwhelming support to expedite changes in the code. Yesterday, Mayor Lewis and Acting Town Manager Collin DeWitt attended the Sunday worship services of the Oasis of Truth Church. DeWitt said, “We had a wonderful experience as we met with the three leaders of the church and their families. We are glad that they selected Gilbert as their home.” Mayor Lewis told church leaders that he will ask Town attorneys to include ADF and the Oasis of Truth Church in the review process this week of the proposed changes that will be presented to the Town Council on March 23. Lewis said, “We welcome their input and suggestions to ensure that church groups are able to meet and enjoy their Constitutional rights. Potentially, we may have a solution to this issue this week.”

The Town of Gilbert has been one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. In spite of the economic downturn, 1,278 single family permits were issued by the Town in 2009. Currently, 221,000 citizens of Gilbert enjoy the clean, safe, and vibrant environment. In 2009, Gilbert was named as the 24th safest city in the United States and safest city in Arizona. Mayor Lewis said, “Our vibrancy is enhanced with our strong faith-based groups. Our partnership with our local ministers and pastors is excellent. Gilbert is considered a religious friendly area. Religious activities occur all over Town and most especially in our homes. The Town Council and our citizens will keep it that way.”

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Comments

  1. Stephen Kohut says

    The only reason they acted was they smelled political blood in the water, their own. Correcting an “interpretation error” is a phone call. It should never have occurred or taken this long to fix.

  2. AllUsBadGuys says

    Here, Here! I thought it was weird that John Lewis would allow something like that!

  3. I agree. This was totally out of character for the Town of Gilbert and the good folks I know in the council.

    Hopefully, someone in P&Z is getting talked to.

  4. Stephen Kohut says

    Is this the same group of good folks trying to drive through tax increases?

  5. What’s so incredulous is that Gilbert city officials confirmed and double confirmed that the church could not meet in that house or any other house. A measure of common sense could have settled this prior to a legal defense team getting involved; there should have been no need for the city council’s involvement. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first township that has harassed in-home church meetings. Perhaps the fault is with the ordinance, but only partly. Gilbert’s inquiry should include city staff, specifically why a red-blooded American would target a bible study meeting in their own living rooms.

  6. The council was actually pretty incensed, but this is a lesson to keep a tight reign on city staff. The individual responsible should be scrutinized and the policy made clear that Gilbert is a faith friendly city.

  7. Compare that to the church fighting the City of Phoenix over the ringing of bells – a faith “unfriendly” city.

  8. AllUsBadGuys says

    Kohut, I know what you mean about “political blood” and this comment is not made to disagree with your assumption at all 99.9% of the time, but in this particular case, I am totally confident that the mayor and at least one freshman council member I know would blow the whistle on it without batting an eyelash.

    As for managing staff, very poor job!

  9. Stephen Kohut says

    I think these boys forget that is was not uncommon in the early days of our nation for congregations that had not built a church yet to use the local courthouse or other building for their services and take turns on who used it which Sunday, actions that Jefferson supported. We seem to have forgotten both our history and the intent of the founding fathers.

    Many think Jefferson was against the mixing of government and religion and point to his letter to Danbury Baptist that the courts have used to create a seperation of church and state that does not exist in the Constitution. For those on that bandwagon please refer to the treaties Jefferson signed with various Indian tribes shortly after the Danbury Baptist letter in which the US Government paid for both churches and ministers salaries on the Federal nickel for the tribes.

  10. I suggest Gilbert look into whoever told the group they couldn’t have a Bible study..because they are obviously not in on the “safe town” attitude, not the “religious freedom” thinking…..not the upholding of the constitution….! This sounds like an emergency response to getting sued! And while on the subject…a town that is a strong “faith built” community…is exactly the reason it is a “safe” town! God protects his own!!!

  11. Lin Floyd says

    The founding fathers wanted total separation of church and state, while retaining religious freedom for all citizens. To interpret the law as prohibiting church (or mosque) meetings in private homes is deliberately obtuse. I would be suing the town of Gilbert forthwith!

  12. How about simply that this is welcome news? And perhaps everyone in Gilbert will be more careful in the future regarding interpretations of the regulations?

    Bureaucrats are hard wired to say “No,” so they need to be reminded from time to time that “Yes” is appropriate for a lot of activities.

  13. Nick Augenstein says

    Sirs:

    You must be kidding. I know the people of Gilbert, that you have “unknowingly” harassed. You give the usual “left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, rhetoric”. If your town is so friendly and able to grow knowledgeably, then this in inexcusable. This was deliberate and exposes your premeditated view against God. Those who pray, know the true intent of your hearts. Scary, isn’t it.

    It is clear that you do not pursue Him, but rather your own dreams and ambitions. This is sad, because you will feel the need to suppress many more of us, as we come to Gilbert to pray for your redemption and forgiveness. Watch for us. The caravan will arrive when you least expect us. The Christians of Gilbert love you and continue to pray for you.

    Yours Truly,

    Nick Augenstein, M.D., Ph.D.

  14. Tom Tuerff says

    My only concern with something like this is that these situations come very close to confusing the line between the freedom of religion, whatever that religion may be, and freedom to be a Christian, which is something entirely other. Would the council have been equally willing to go to bat for, say, a group of pagans or Wiccans? They certainly practice their religion in private homes with groups of people. If it had been a group of Muslims who wanted to meet and discuss the Koran, would the Mayor have jumped to their defense? I would hope so, but sometimes “religious freedom” is just a nice way of dressing up a “Hooray for Jesus and nobody else” attitude. — TT

  15. Steve Calabrese says

    Religion…

    There’s religion in Gilbert alright. I suspect even as I write there’s certain department heads who are being summoned to a “coming to Jesus”-style meeting in front of council members.

    I bet the first question will be along the lines of, “if you people have time to do THIS, explain to us why we shouldn’t cut your budget so that you can focus on more appropriate tasks?”

    A tragic shame that there’s no video of the mayor and certain freshman councilmembers – as someone put it – capturing their reaction when they first heard of it. John Lewis is a dignified guy, but I don’t doubt he had smoke coming out of his ears when he caught wind of this.

    Good job, Gilbert council!

  16. orv bystol says

    Anyone who even in the remotest realm thinks that this was innocently done or interpreted is absolutely blinded by naive idiocracy! Staff / city employees /members who believed they’d be able to suppress constituional rights have his/her head up in an anal cavity! Enough excuses–this is inexcusable…thank you ADF for the willingness to put Gilbert City in its place. It is NOT a “safe” community…and any chance the person attempting to destroy constitutional rights was a Mormon????

Trackbacks

  1. […] Gilbert, AZ Press Release: “[W]ithout the Town Council’s knowledge, one church group had already been told to stop holding meetings in their home. Last week the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) filed an appeal for the Oasis of Truth Church located in Gilbert. While Town staff had anticipated presenting to the Town Council proposed zoning changes at the next Town Council meeting (scheduled for March 23), ADF’s appeal reached the media on Friday, March 12, causing concern that Town of Gilbert restricted religious freedom guaranteed in the Constitution . . . Mayor Lewis said, “Our vibrancy is enhanced with our strong faith-based groups. Our partnership with our local ministers and pastors is excellent. Gilbert is considered a religious friendly area. Religious activities occur all over Town and most especially in our homes. The Town Council and our citizens will keep it that way.” […]

  2. […] Sonoran Alliance: Arizona Politics for Conservatives » Gilbert Remains Committed to Religious … […]

  3. […] Related ADF Media and recent statements from Gilbert’s leadership:  “Gilbert remains committed to religious freedom” […]

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