Mercy Way Rescue, formerly known as F.A.I.T.H. (Feeding and Inspiring the Homeless), a church whose mission it is to “spread the good, new and unconditional love, grace and unmerited mercy of Jesus to the homeless, poor, hungry, mentally ill and addicted people” has obtained approval to operate in the City of Pacerville, California over threatened legal action concerning religious freedom.
In December 2012, the City’s Planning Commission denied the Church’s conditional use permit application. During the hearing, City officials accused Mercy Way Rescue Mission of “masquerading as a church” and expressed concern over the types of congregants (the homeless) the church would attract. These sorts of comments, as we have seen in other cases, are sometimes the starting blocks for RLUIPA claims. A member of Pacific Justice Institute stated of the denial: “It’s not just illegal to base a planning decision on the members of a church, it’s an outrage! There should be a public outcry anytime a planning commission considers demographics in their decision for a church to be established.”
The church appealed the Planning Commission’s denial and Pacific Justice Institute intervened on the church’s behalf, writing a letter to the City warning it of potential legal action under RLUIPA and state and federal constitutions. Succumbing to threatened legal action, the City Council granted the Church’s application.
A video of Mercy Way Rescue’s pastor describe the church’s mission is available at http://www.pacificjustice.org/1/post/2013/01/city-tries-to-shut-down-church-for-homeless.html.