Green Street Church of Christ has been on a mission to help Nashville’s homeless for years, but now the church says that mission is under fire, reports The Tennessean. In late June, the Metro Nashville Codes Department cited the church for having tents on the property where the homeless sleep, saying the property’s zoning does not allow camping.
The church vows to challenge the citation in court.
“It is the position of the church that they’re protected under federal statute and under the Constitution of the United States,” said William “Tripp” Hunt, the attorney representing the church.
Church leaders say they are following a biblical directive, in the 25th chapter of the book of Mark, to help house the poor.
“In that chapter, it says that if you help the poor you are helping Jesus himself,” Hunt said. “Under that basis alone they feel that it is their obligation to help the poor.
“Where it stands now, the city’s prosecuting them for having the homeless encampment there.”
The Shelby County Commission voted 9-4 Monday in favor of giving a contract to local nonprofit group Christ Community Health Services to provide family-planning services for poor people, reports the Commercial Appeal. The vote was a setback for Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region, which currently has a temporary county contract and protested the proposed switch to Christ Community.
The contract focused on family planning, but abortion was an underlying issue. Planned Parenthood performs abortions; Christ Community does not.
“It is about abortion. That’s why so many people are here,” said Jeff Drzycimski, a Catholic deacon and one of several abortion opponents who spoke at Monday’s commission meeting. “We want our tax dollars not to fund Planned Parenthood, not to fund the killing of children.”
After the vote, Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Joan Carr said the organization would now have to charge patients for birth-control services.
“This decision is not in the best interest of the women and families of Shelby County and was the result of state and local political pandering,” she said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that politics trumped people’s needs.”
A South Nashville megachurch’s fight against paying a $425,000 property tax bill could have major implications for churches throughout the state whose facilities include not only sanctuaries and classrooms, but also stores and athletic facilities, according to The Tennessean When Christ Church, which has 2,600 members and is on Old Hickory Boulevard, built the 110,000-square-foot Hardwick Activities Center in 2004, it had to reapply for its tax-exempt status. A government property assessor who toured the facility in 2007 determined that a bookstore, cafe, fitness center and gymnasium operated like businesses open to the general public and denied a tax exemption for those portions of the facility.
Arguing that the facilities are used in ministry and integral to the church’s mission, the church has been engaged in a legal battle ever since. In 2009, the church won a small victory when an administrative law judge decided the gymnasium should be taxed only at 50 percent. Friday, the church, armed with lawyers from the conservative Arizona-based Christian legal group The Alliance Defense Fund, took its case to Davidson County Chancery Court and argued that its constitutional rights are being violated.
…In response, Assistant Metropolitan Attorney Jeff Campbell noted that state law exempts “purely” religious activities from taxation and argued that a bookstore that charged retail prices and a fitness center that charged annual fees didn’t qualify. Campbell noted that the bookstore sold items such as a portrait of former President George W. Bush and Naomi’s Guide to Aging Gratefully, a best-seller authored by Naomi Judd, and that fitness center activities were not religious in nature.
…Chancellor Carol McCoy did not decide the case Friday and will issue a written order at a later date.