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Bible Studies Draw the Multitudes, Beget Complaints

The city is headed to court Oct. 7 to determine if a San Juan Capistrano couple needs a permit to host bible studies at their home.

At-home Bible studies are allowed in San Juan Capistrano—as long as the neighbors are happy.

The Capistrano Dispatch has whipped up indignation after reporting two weeks ago that Charles and Stephanie Fromm have been fined $500 after upsetting at least one neighbor by hosting Bible studies that draw as many as 50 people twice a week.

Other media quickly picked up on the story and reported that San Juan Capistrano doesn't allow at-home Bible studies—an accusation that city officials are disputing.

In April, the Fromms received a notice from the city that they needed a conditional-use permit to host their gatherings at their Branding Iron Road residence. City Attorney Omar Sandoval said the notice was sent to the Fromms after a neighbor complained.

The city's code, he said, does not have "bright-line rules" for how many people may gather. "Enforcement depends on the zoning of the property and whether neighbors complain," he said.

"The issue continues to be, regardless of the number of persons in attendance, whether regular meetings where the public is invited, twice a week, support the policy of preserving the spacious, low-density residential character of the neighborhood," Sandoval wrote in an e-mail to Patch.

City officials are headed to court Oct. 7 to hash out the permitting issue with the Fromms. The couple has refused to apply for the permit, which would regulate parking and traffic circulation on their neighborhood street.

"How dare they tell us we can’t have whatever we want in our home,” Stephanie Fromm told the Dispatch. “We want to be able to use our home. We’ve paid a lot and invested a lot in our home and backyard … I should be able to be hospitable in my home.”

During Tuesday night's City Council meeting, several residents defended the Fromms. "Can you stop me from having 50 people over to watch football?" one resident asked.

Sandoval did not respond to Patch's request to provide specific examples of impacts to street access and parking in the Fromms' neighborhood as a result of the Bible studies.

"Note that we are not interested in trying this case to the press," he said.

City Councilman Derek Reeve said Tuesday that it was "disgusting" that the city is going to court on the matter. He also expressed ire that the council refused to take up the matter but did choose to talk about whether it was appropriate to

Alberto Barrera September 22, 2011 at 02:12 AM
This is on the Drudge Report, the damage has been done.....
Bill Deck September 22, 2011 at 09:23 PM
Sound like there may be parking and noise violations. Just a guess.
Jodie September 22, 2011 at 10:36 PM
I don't think the problem is bible study. The problem is having 50 people on a quiet residential street twice a week. I would imagine the traffic and parking situation is disruptive to the neighborhood. I don't think people would be upset if it her an isolated incident (Superbowl party, birthday party, etc.)
Love SJC October 05, 2011 at 10:59 PM
Suggested discussion topic(s) for their next Bible Study: How can we take Jesus's words and evidence them in our life outside this class? What did Jesus say about how we should treat others? For instance, our neighbors? How can we continue our Bible Study while simultaneously not running over the rights of those neighbors?
Ruth Brogdon November 16, 2011 at 05:07 AM
The problem is when you specifically pick on one or two organizations. It doesn't matter what they are, it's wrong. For example, my neighbors have some type of meetings at their homes at least once per week. Another has Monday night football party every week. Another, Friday night fights. Or, anyone could have a weekly poker game or bunko night twice a week, in that very same neighborhood, and guess waht? No one could fine them. Do you not find that reprehensible to the freedom of citizens period? Truly, if parking is an issue, then if ANYONE had ANY type of gathering, then they should be fined $500 also. I went to a football game at Mission Viejo High School...I had to walk 2 miles to get to that game and EVERY available road parking spot for those neighborhoods were FULL. It happens. To single out a couple of group by a LAW seems to me to be the opposite of "separation of church and state." So, if this group changes the name of their meetings to "friends fellowship" versus Bible Study they do not get fined for the very same weekly meeting? That tells you VERY QUICKLY that something is wrong with this picture!

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