City reverses course on Bible study shutdown in California

2
1977

By Dan Wooding

Chuck & Stephanie Fromm (Photo: Jonathan Volzke)

The city that issued citations against homeowners Chuck and Stephanie Fromm for holding Bible studies in their home has reversed course after attorneys for Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) took the case to court.

The Fromms were cited twice for holding Bible studies in their home in San Juan Capistrano, the city famous for its historic mission founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1776.

The Fromms’ spacious home is situated on more than an acre of land with one side of the street not having any houses and ample parking. The couple had been hosting two Bible studies per week, one with about a dozen people and the other with approximately 50. Than a complaint by an unnamed neighbor caused the city to step in.

The Fromms have since paid $100 and $200 fines to the city after it was determined the couple was in violation of a municipal code that prohibited “religious, fraternal, or non-profit” groups to meet in residential neighborhoods without a permit.

They were also told that they would be fined an additional $500 if they continued to hold the gatherings.

But now, after a huge outcry from local Christians and worldwide negative publicity, the city has decided to drop its action against the couple and has refunded the fines they had paid. In response, the Fromms have agreed to drop their lawsuit against the city, which had been in process since August.

However, the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net) has discovered that city has not yet changed its laws that led to the controversy.

Scene inside the Bible study

In a letter to the couple, Karen P. Brust, San Juan Capistrano City Manager, who had been working with the Fromms, stated, “City staff will commence the discussion with the Planning Commission.about the issue of the need to clarify the Land Use Code with respect to places of public assembly and gatherings at single family residences.”

PJI had filed an appeal of the citations in the Orange County Superior Court.

“While that case has now been favorably resolved, PJI will continue to press city officials for a resolution of the underlying problems, which include unfettered discretion on the part of code enforcement officers,” said a spokesperson for PJI.

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, noted that the resolution was a timely reaffirmation of core religious values. “From the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock, through the founding of San Juan Capistrano as a mission, the freedom to worship God has been a bedrock American principle. This victory is an important reminder of that principle.”

Michael Peffer, who heads PJI’s Southern California office and handled the case, added, “We will continue fighting to ensure that SJC and other cities put freedom first-especially when it comes to informal gatherings in private homes.”

The irony of this controversial case is that took place in the birthplace of the Mission San Juan Capistrano, which has been called the “Jewel of the Missions” and has been the center of Orange County, California, since its founding.

The Mission’s namesake was Giovanni de Capestrano, who was born in 1386. He was a respected warrior and missionary, who died October 23, 1456. He was canonized in 1690, and was a favorite of Father Junipero Serra. Serra, in 1776, gained permission to name one of the missions after Capestrano.

Today it is one of California’s most important historical, cultural, and educational centers. The Mission is the seventh of 21 Spanish Missions established in California by Franciscan Padres. Spain controlled California until 1821, when Mexico won its independence. In 1845, the Mission was sold for $710 to Don Juan Forster. His family lived at the Mission for 20 years. In 1865, Abraham Lincoln returned the Mission to the Catholic Church. In 1915, Mary Pickford was married in the Mission chapel.

About Chuck Fromm

The three Chucks — Chuck Smith and his son Chuck Smith Jr. in the studios of KWVE with an inset of Chuck Fromm

Chuck Fromm is the nephew of Pastor Chuck Smith, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, California, and the son of Chuck’s sister, Virginia.

He is also the Publisher and founder of Worship Leader magazine and CEO of its parent company Worship Leader Media. The latter is a pioneering nondenominational communications company that serves churches through remediating ancient content in contemporary language and imagery. He has lectured on communications, theology, and worship at graduate schools and seminaries (Princeton, Fuller Theological Seminary, Liberty University, Baylor, and USC, Annenberg, among others).

Chuck holds a PhD from the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. He received a communication award from Fuller for his doctoral thesis Textual Communities and New Song in the Multimedia Age: The Routinization of Charisma in the Jesus Movement. He has founded numerous print and digital-based magazines, as well as creating diverse learning environments for pastors, worship leaders, technologists and more.

Chuck Fromm has served as an adjunct at USC in the Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism, teaching “Communicating Religion.” He presented “New Song the Sound of Spiritual Awakening” at Oxford, and co-presented “The Odes of Solomon” At Fuller Theological Seminary (with James H. Charlesworth and Lee McDonald).

He entered into the recording business from the field of city management when he was 25. As President of Maranatha! Music for 22 years, he developed the series: Praise (that launched an entirely new genre-Praise & Worship-fueling an industry and a movement), Kids Praise, Psalms Alive!, and The Words of Worship. His leadership there was rewarded with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gospel Music Association in ’90 and a President’s award from the National Religious Broadcasters in ’91, as well as a Grammy (Best Children’s recording 1992, A Cappella Kids) produced and released by his recording label.

About the Pacific Justice Institute:

The Pacific Justice Institute is a non-profit 501(c)(3) legal defense organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom, parental rights, and other civil liberties. Its website is: www.pacificjustice.org

2 COMMENTS

  1. It’s always amazing the little or BIG distractions that satan can throw in the way. I’m glad to hear that this situation got enough attention that the decision was reversed. I hope it provides some momentum for other christians!!

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