It is part of Pueblo Pentecostal church’s hospitality ministry to provide free parking for recreational vehicles (RVs), a variety of utility hookups, and food on its premises for Christian missionaries, evangelists, and other travelers. Today, it is at risk of being shut down, a report said.
The program, which the Christian Growth Center has operated for over 30 years, violates a city ordinance and has to be shut down, Colorado’s Pueblo City zoning department informed the church’s leaders in May.
The church filed an appeal, and the matter may be resolved by the end of this month.
“This is a vital ministry,” said the Rev. Paul Elder, pastor of Christian Growth Center.
“They’re not only creating a hardship for our church but for all kinds of various ministries of people who are committed to the Gospel, who usually make less than minimum wage because they operate by offerings, and don’t have $500 to $800 a month to stay at a motel or RV park,” he said.
If the church would be forced to stop the program, it could violate its rights in the Federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. It would be an infraction of the U.S. Constitution, argues attorney for religious liberty Andrew Nussbaum of Colorado Springs.
He’s seeking an exemption for religious reasons from the city’s ordinance that restricts RVs from being “used for living, sleeping or housekeeping purposes when parked or stored on a residential lot, or in any location not approved for such use.”
Assistant City Attorney Trevor Gloss said in a letter addressed to Nussbaum that federal law isn’t applicable in this case since it doesn’t provide “blanket immunity to land use regulations,” and a “substantial burden” must be more than merely “an inconvenience.”
In Pueblo’s zoning regulations, it is prohibited to use RVs as homes in any location they want to. RV living is only permitted in parks specifically designed for this purpose.
City officials indicated on Tuesday that the city’s zoning board of appeals would take up the issue at a public hearing later this month, Nussbaum said.
“In a healthy democratic society, part of a healthy political ecosystem is a very wide latitude for religious groups to practice as they see fit,” Nussbaum said. “It really is an important cornerstone for a town like Pueblo for having people trying to live out their faith by ministering to the poor and other Christians, and for a city to allow that kind of activity. Federal law reflects that common good.”