Rutherford Institute asks Waynesboro accommodate churches on homeless-shelter issue

The Rutherford Institute is calling on the City of Waynesboro to accommodate local churches wishing to provide temporary shelters for the homeless during the winter months by allowing them to take refuge inside their existing church buildings.

Institute attorneys are challenging the city’s current interpretation of its zoning ordinance which requires churches to apply for permits to shelter the homeless during the winter season, while rendering some churches unable to apply for the permits alleged to be necessary. Insisting that the city’s requirements are in violation of the First Amendment, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and Virginia’s Act for Religious Freedom, Institute attorneys warn that the City could open itself to costly litigation unless the Waynesboro Planning Commission either changes its interpretation or amends the ordinance to remove the permit requirement.

“Churches have a biblical mandate to care for the needy and downtrodden, and should be supported—not hindered—in their efforts to do so,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “With government budgets currently stressed beyond capacity, it is difficult to comprehend any logical reason that would justify the City of Waynesboro’s imposition of barriers for churches wishing to provide shelter for the homeless in their community.”

Pastor Howard Miller of the Waynesboro Mennonite Church and a collection of other Waynesboro area churches are working toward instituting a rotating thermal shelter for the homeless, called the Waynesboro Area Refuge Ministry (WARM), so that those in need of shelter during the winter months may take refuge inside existing church buildings.

However, Rutherford Institute attorneys have concluded that the City of Waynesboro’s Zoning Board has been erroneously interpreting its ordinances in such a way as to require churches to apply for conditional use permits to establish the temporary shelters, and has even excluded some churches from applying for permits at all.

Under Waynesboro’s city code, a church must apply for a permit if it wishes to perform some activity that would be considered a primary use, if the church has not already been permitted to do that activity.


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